Ridgefield native helping to resettle Afghans following U.S. withdrawal

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — Attorney Kate Kovarovic was working for Veterans Affairs last summer when whispers the United States would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan began to circulate.

The Ridgefield native met many veterans who served there. So as news outlets displayed the desperate attempts of Afghan citizens to flee the Taliban-controlled country in August, Kovarovic said she and co-workers felt “particularly distressed.”

“The U.S. and its partners expected the Taliban to take a couple of weeks to take over, and instead it took a couple of hours,” she said. “Those veterans felt connected to the Afghans. … They (weren’t) sure what to do but knew they had to act.”

Kovarovic felt compelled to do the same.

On the same day of the withdrawal, National Defense Fellow Carl Miller founded Operation Sacred Promise. The organization is one of many supporting the evacuation and resettlement of thousands of displaced Afghans in the United States.

Kovarovic volunteers as Operation Sacred Promise’s communications director and legal adviser. Although most of the 50-person team has never met in person, she said they coordinate life-saving operations solely by phone.

The volunteers communicate with a vast network of Afghan citizens who are still evacuating and resettling in America. While the withdrawal has fallen from the news spotlight, “The need is not erased just because the interest has,” Kovarovic said.

“You have millions of Afghans who are left behind in a Taliban-controlled area with no access to food or supplies, who are cut off from their families and are facing an extremely harsh and cold winter,” she added. “They’re facing things we never have to think about — we have a family who was thinking of (selling) one of the children because they didn’t have enough money for food. It’s difficult to relate to but that’s the reality.”

Operation Sacred Promise provides tangible ways in which people can offer support, Kovarovic said. To date, its food box program has fed nearly 3,000 Afghans overseas.

Operation Sacred Promise also operates as a policy advocate. As part of the coalition #AfghanEvac — which comprises 120 nonprofits — the organization works with the U.S. government to impart specific changes within the American immigration system. Kovarovic said these efforts help set the stage for future humanitarian crises.

Kovarovic acknowledged the “compassion fatigue” that may come with engaging in more negative news cycles, but she said she believes people can have a “critical impact” on the situation if they feel motivated to get involved.

“I grew up in Ridgefield, and I’ve seen time and time again how small communities can come together to make a big impact,” she said. “I hope they see the problem is not insurmountable — there are clear ways they can help.”

For information about Operation Sacred Promise, email katekovarovicosp@gmail.com.