This post comes from an Open World Exchange Program alum, who visited New Hampshire in 2019. We have not edited the content, so as to allow for her true voice to come through. Also, we are not using her name, as she still has family at risk in Afghanistan. We hope this gives some added insights into the final days of the U.S. evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.
"Since fall of Kabul in hands of Taliban, panic shadowed the entire Kabul city. Mob rushed to the civilian airport to board any available flights with no clear destination. I and my mom also tried our luck and went to the airport, however we couldn’t manage to move a meter. The scene was chaotic, people of all age and group were rushing and pushing towards the airport gates. The roads toward the airport were overwhelming with crowds. Taliban at first check points, Afghan Special Force on second and third was the US marines guarding the gates and blocking the crowds’ entrance to the airport.
We couldn’t make it in our first try, second try was even worse. More people arrived from several part of the country with their families and kids, adding to already overcrowded roads. Taxi dropped us to a road close to the airport, we walked few steps and suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by desperate mob. I was separated from my mom whose is a heart patient. The mob pushed me front and mom left behind. I struggled and wanted to swim against the flow, but failed and fell. People stepped on me, kicked me and didn’t give me the chance to stand up, thus I crawled and crawled, finally reached a corner to hold my hands and stand on my feet.
I looked around, I didn’t know where the mob has taken me, but I knew I wasn’t close to the gate, but somewhere in the middle. I stood there for hours and hours, looking around to spot my mom and rang her several times, but no answer. It started to darken and I was totally alone among unknowns. I decided to return and it took me two harsh hours to come out of the crowd.
Once out of the mob, I rang my mom again, it truly added to my anxiety if anything may have happened to her. Finally she picked up, I was relieved. When we were separated by the mob, she was pushed back and hurled toward a wall. She held onto the wall for some time and slowly, slowly moved out of the crowed. She found a calm corner and sat, waiting for my return or to inform her my whereabouts. When I saw her, she looked desperate, exhausted and worry, her heart beating rapidly, she missed her medication. She was not able to walk any step, we stayed there another one to two hours, until her condition was stabilized.
We decided to return home and stayed as long as we could get a save passage to the airport. Meanwhile, I have registered ourselves in State Department and Defense Department Evacuation Assistance Program.
Luckily in two days, I have received a call from my US handler and we get connected through WhatsApp. We had regular communications and plans for evacuation, but uncertainty, insecurity and threats were revamping that made it significantly challenging to hold onto one plan and proceed.
As reaching the airport gates were getting extremely difficult, different methods were used for evacuation such as specific buses, vans and taxis were assigned to pick the people and transport them to the airport through different routes. My US handler assigned me and my mom on the bus list and we waited almost two days to hear from them. It was the second day that we were informed, the bus coordinator will contact us for pick up. The pickup time was not certain, but we were instructed to be ready for any time evacuation, however suddenly ISIS planned huge explosions close to airport gates, claimed many innocent lives and halted the entire evacuation operation. To make the matter worse, Taliban also imposed restrictions on evacuation of Afghans with incomplete documents.
I am a US permanent resident (green card holder), but my mom is not. I and my US handler made all our best tries to evacuate her with me, however we couldn’t succeed. Our experience of airport gates haunted her and discourages her to try any other routes to the airport except proper transportation. We couldn’t get her out, her documents and limited opportunities, left her behind, but forced me to leave as my two young kids were desperately waiting for my return and delaying any further may jeopardize my evacuation as well.
She is there, waiting for unknown future. She is under tremendous medication and treatment. She has high blood pressure, anxiety and taking depression medication. What is happening right now, certainly not in her favor? No good doctors, no proper medication and no way out. She even can’t travel long distance by road or walk. She is very vulnerable to any changes. Part of my broken heart is with her and I don’t know when I will see her again.
Eventually on 25th August, I received a call from someone who instructed me to reach a certain address immediately. From that address, I was picked up by a van and transported to a much undisclosed location. There were couple of more Afghan families. Our all electronic devises were taken and we were kept there for hours.
It was around 8:00pm that we were picked up by cars and dropped off to a different location to be airlifted to the airport. It was dark and again we waited few hours until three military choppers landed and we were all airlifted to the airport.
In dark cold night of Kabul, we stayed at the Kabul Military Airport runway for several hours with no food and limited restrooms. Kids were crying, elders were exhausted, and women were worn-out. I constantly communicated with my US handler, updating about my status and she was constantly working on speeding up the boarding and clearance process. Finally at 5:00am, we boarded the military plan, but we had no idea where our destination is. We were sitting on the floor of the plane, so close to each other that made it difficult to stretch our legs or hands. You have to sit without moving any part of your body for four straight hours.
After three to four hours of flight, the plane landed. When the tail of the plane opened, I felt gush of the hot air on my face, right, it was Qatar.
We were off boarded the plane and taken to a large tent, equipped with green military beds, organized side by side. You can occupy any available bed but who will be sleeping on your side, is a lottery. After couple of hours, people with proper documents were categorized and moved to smaller tents. I was moved with five families in a smaller tent which had limited beds and few chairs.
We spent the night there even though Qatar is hot and humid, tents were dry and cold and nights were worse. I didn’t have any warm clothes nor blanket to cover myself. I left home with a small backpack filled with my laptop, documents and my country’s soil and flag. In addition, there were limited restrooms so I even didn’t eat nor drink enough, I was so dehydrated that caused me extreme headache. The next day, our documents were processed and ready to departure for our next destination.
The marines lined up us and directed us toward a commercial plane. At the plane every individual was so traumatized that you can hear only kids’ noise or cries, no adults were communicating. Looking at every bodies face, they were so soulless, so motionless, so lost that they no longer cared what will come next. We were harshly shattered.
After seven hours, the planed landed in Germany and stayed for two to three hours for new crew to board and departed toward our final destination, United States of America.
It was 9:00pm, we landed at the Dulles International Airport. Once off boarded the plane, I didn’t feel excitement of coming home, going to my kids. Our feelings were lost, no emotions, we were following orders as programmed robots. Sound of laughter and music was hitting us like bullet, you just want to shut it down. Probably we have heard a lot, bullets, bombshells, kids’ squeals, mothers’ cries, and Taliban’s yells.
The process for clearance at Dulles was lengthy and tiresome, but finally around 2:00am, I made it out of airport, but for me it was not my final destination.
Since the fall of Kabul government, I have followed the news and the horrors. Today I am sitting in my house with my kids around me, but I am not the person when I left the house. I am silent, joyless and still only watching the news. We are so traumatized and shattered, it may take us time to collect ourselves."