Just two days before the United States is set to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, a member of the Taliban slammed an American-funded media outlet and its journalists on Twitter.
Abdul saw that tweet and his heart sank. As an Afghan journalist working for that outlet, he had known that he was in danger, but the tweet felt like a confirmation of his fate. This, especially as his only hope to leave Afghanistan was dwindling, with the U.S. sticking to its withdrawal deadline of August 31. His name, like others in this piece, have been changed for his protection.
“I am scared of what will happen after they leave us here. We are already threatened, because of our association,” he told VICE World News, a day before the departure of U.S. troops.
Abdul is one of many Afghans whose hopes of departing are fading as the clock runs out. In recent weeks, the Taliban swiftly recaptured the country and overthrew the U.S.-supported Afghan government. Many Afghan allies fear retribution and a return to human rights abuses that characterised the Islamic fundamentalist group’s rule from 1996 to 2001.
“For now I can only hope that we are safe, but the reality is no one in the Taliban will let us live.”
U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to evacuate all Americans and their allies but has stood by the country’s exit deadline of August 31, effectively ending its war in Afghanistan after 20 years. Over the weekend, European countries who fought alongside the U.S. after 9/11 wrapped up evacuations and pulled their troops. As of publication time, 120,000 people were evacuated by joint efforts since August 14 but about 300 Americans remain in the country and many more Afghan allies are hoping to leave. Threats of attack at the airport continue, further complicating escape options for desperate Afghans hoping to leave.
Like thousands of others, Abdul braved the crowds to get to Kabul airport with his wife and infant son in an attempt to escape, but after the deadly bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops on Thursday at the very gate he had waited in just days prior, he knows he can’t return.
Instead, he has no choice but to stay in hiding. As he waits for assistance from the United States, he cannot help but feel betrayed about the country’s failure to evacuate those like him who have risked their lives working with an American media agency to bring news from Afghanistan to global audiences.
He said he and his hundreds of colleagues who have also been left behind are “totally disappointed.”
“The U.S. evacuated those people that they didn’t have any contact with, but they left people that were working under extreme conditions for their media. I know many people that didn’t have a national Afghanistan ID but they are now in Europe and North America,” he said. “They left us to be in danger.”
He isn’t the only one who feels abandoned.
Faiza worked for a company aiding American troops and holds a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, a type of visa for Afghans who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government. She was issued a gate pass to enter the airport, but even after three visits to Kabul airport and many hours of waiting outside, the very country she’d aided for five years failed to help her get in.
“I think they didn’t have a good plan for evacuation. A lot of people went without documents… But us SIV applicants were left behind.”
She too fears for her life and has been hiding at home. Faiza was at the airport on the day of the bombing and refuses to go back despite holding proper paperwork, until she receives clear instructions from the American government. She knows of many others like her waiting for email updates.
On Sunday, nearly 100 countries promised to continue accepting Afghan refugees even after America pulls out. The U.S. said it was able to secure an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for those who want to leave, while the Taliban said they would not stop Afghans from departing even if they worked for the United States.
But those like Abdul continue to worry. He said other American journalist groups and NGOs have tried to lobby for him and his colleagues but to no avail. The only colleague who has made it out was able to escape through his own connections. For now, his only plan is to await commercial flights which the Taliban had said they will allow to resume after U.S. troops pull out. But even this is precarious, after the Taliban appear to have already broken some promises.
“Here they promised many things, like opening banks, starting universities and passport [applications] but nothing is open, just a few branches of banks,” he said.
The closures mean options are scarce. Many banks remain closed and the majority of Afghans cannot afford international flights. Passport processing has been suspended and lines for applications are notoriously long. Abdul’s own passport is expired and his wife and son don’t hold travel documents. Faiza’s passport has less than six months of validity left.
Given the lack of options, Faiza is consumed by worry and fear, with no clear path forward but to wait and pray that the U.S. will not stop their efforts in evacuating allies like herself even after leaving.
She said she’s trying not to give up but is already suffering from depression, like many of her friends.
“Life is not normal, especially for women. Life has stopped here. There’s no job, no education,” she said. “I think I am in prison. We like to wear different clothes with nice colors. Now we must wear black hijabs. There’s no shopping, no parties, no coffee shops.”
Abdul too is resigned. He said he does not regret working as a journalist and reporting for Americans, but said “putting us at risk is not fair” and that they had expected more protections. He said he feels completely exposed to the Taliban and said he has no words for “what they [the U.S.] are doing and what they did to us.”
“[I feel] hopeless just waiting for a miracle, I can’t be hopeful in this situation.”
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