A couple with U.S. green cards from California sleeps in a different house every night in Kabul’s capital. One of them is always awake to look after their children and let them know if the Taliban are coming.
In just two weeks, they have moved seven times and depended on their relatives for food and shelter. They live in fear and boredom all day and are restricted to just a few rooms. There they can read, watch TV, and play “The Telephone Game”, where they share secrets with their friends. This is a distraction for the children and keeps them quiet.
It all happens while they wait in agony for someone to call them and help them escape. They were contacted by a U.S. State Department official several days ago to inform them that they had been assigned a case worker. However, they have not heard from anyone since. After trying unsuccessfully to board a flight, they now speak to an international rescue organization.
“We are scared and keep hiding ourselves more and more,” the mother said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Whenever we feel breathless, I pray.”
AP has compiled a list of messages, emails, and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups that show what daily life was like for those who were left behind following the U.S. military’s chaotic withdrawal. This includes U.S. citizens, permanent U.S. residents green-card holders, and visa applicants who aided U.S. soldiers during the 20-year conflict.
Those contacted for safety by AP described a fearful and furtive existence. They hid in their houses for weeks and moved around a lot, wearing baggy clothes and burqas to hide from detection if they had to venture outside.
They are all afraid that the Taliban will find them and throw them in jail. They are also concerned about the fact that Biden’s promises to free them have failed.
The U.S. green-card holder in Kabul answered the phone when a truck driver from Texas called. He was hoping it was the U.S. State Department responding to his pleas for his parents and him to fly out.
Instead, It was actually the Taliban.
“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen,” the caller stated, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives with him in Texas and spoke to him afterward. The call included a few ominous words: “We know where you are.”
This was enough to drive the man from Kabul, where he was staying with his mother, two of his teenage brothers, and his father. He was particularly at risk because he worked as a U.S. contractor supervising security guards for many years.
“They are hopeless,” stated the brother in Texas. “They think, ’We’re stuck in the apartment and no one is here to help us.′ They’ve been left behind.”
The U.S. Secretary Of State Antony Blinken stated to Congress that while the government doesn’t track U.S. permanent residents with green cards in Afghanistan, he believes several thousand are still in the country. He also said that about 100 U.S citizens remain. He assured Congress that the U.S. government would work to get them out.
According to the State Department, 36 Americans had been evacuated as of Tuesday and 24 green card holders were still in the country since the U.S. military left the country last month. The administration didn’t release the exact number of those who were evacuated Friday.
The Taliban and the U.S. have not provided any clear explanations for why so many people have been evacuated.
This is not encouraging for another Texas green card holder, a grandmother who watched from a roof as militants pulled up in half-dozen Humvees and police cars to seize control of the house across the street.
“The Taliban. The Taliban,” she whispered into the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman recounted to the AP. “The women and kids are screaming. They’re dragging the men to the cars.”
She and her husband, who came to Kabul several months ago to visit relatives, are now terrified that the Taliban will not only uncover their American ties but those of their son back in Texas, who had worked for a U.S. military contractor for years.
Her son, who is also not being named, says he called U.S. embassy officials in Kabul several times before it shut down, filled out all the necessary paperwork, and even enlisted the help of a veteran’s group and members of Congress.
He doesn’t know what more he can do.
“What will we do if they knock on the door?” the 57-year-old mother asked on one of her daily calls. “What will we do?”
“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.
Asked in a recent interview if he believed that, the son shot back, exasperated, “What else am I supposed to tell her?”
The Taliban government has pledged to allow Americans and Afghans to leave Afghanistan with valid travel documents and not to retaliate against anyone who helped the United States. Michelle Bachelet, U.N. human rights chief, said that there are signs they aren’t keeping their word. Monday’s warning came from U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. She cited credible reports that Afghan military personnel were being killed in reprisal and that Taliban members are rumored to be hunting former officials of government and those who had cooperated with the U.S military and U.S companies.
AP journalists in Afghanistan have not heard of any U.S. citizens, green card holders or citizens being taken into custody or arrested by Taliban. They have confirmed that several Afghans working for the military and previous government were recently taken into question and released.
The California family of nine-year-old girls and two boys aged 8 and 6 tells how they have been on the run since the Taliban knocked at their relative’s door asking about Americans who were staying there.
After the mother was granted a special immigrant visa, her family moved to Sacramento four years ago. She had worked in Kabul for U.S.-funded projects that promoted women’s rights. The mother claims that her daughter and she have worn burqas every time they moved to their next “prison home.”
As they wait for help, the father, an Uber driver, is suffering panic attacks.
“I don’t see the U.S. government stepping in and getting them out anytime soon,” said the children’s elementary school principal, Nate McGill, who has been exchanging daily texts with the family.
The mother has made distraction her go-to method to protect her children from stress. She asks her children what they would like to do when they return to California, and what they’d like to be when they are older.
Their daughter wants to be a doctor, and their sons want to be teachers.
Distraction isn’t always enough. The daughter hid in a bedroom after a relative informed her that the Taliban were taking small girls away. Her dad then puffed himself up and claimed he could defeat the Taliban, making her giggle.
The mother smiled, hiding her fear from her daughter, but later texted her principal.
“This life is almost half-death.”