The Sparrows of Kabul is Fred Smith’s personal account of Australia’s mission to evacuate visa and passport holders from Kabul International Airport (KIA) in the two weeks after the city fell to the Taliban in August 2021. Soldiers and diplomats worked 20-hour days, in uncertain and difficult conditions, to help people in through the airport gates and out of Afghanistan, while millions around the world worked their phones all hours of the night, desperate to extract friends, family and former colleagues. It was chaos and his epitaph for the mission is “it was what it was.” We are left admiring the courage and tenacity of so many Afghan men, women and children who braved the human cattle yards outside the gates of Kabul airport in a last-ditch dash for freedom. This is not an official history but an extraordinary first-hand account touching on the things that matter: trust and transparency, hope and despair, sleep and insomnia, creativity and bureaucracy, self-help and self-sacrifice, family and friendship.
The Sparrows of Kabul is Fred Smith at his best, traversing the personal and political with gentle humour to offer an accessible account of events we would otherwise struggle to understand. Smith is the poet and songwriter of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. His CD Dust of Uruzgan was described in the SMH as “finely observed snapshots of a harsh, sad and funny reality… balancing drama and humour… towering artistic
achievement: truth.” The lyrics to Fred’s song ‘Sapper’s Lullaby’ are engraved in marble at the Australian plot in the centuries-old British War Cemetery in Kabul.
“In Fred Smith’s hands, this insider account of the evacuation of Kabul is a rare bird; viscerally honest, packed with self-doubt,suffering and grace. Not just the facts but the feelings as the mission saved many but failed others. Profoundly moving.”
—Hugh Riminton, Chanel 10 Political Editor