WASHINGTON – For more than a week, Samiullah “Sammy” Naderi, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, waited days and nights with his wife and son outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the hope to be cleared to depart on one of the dozens of daily flights to America.
“It’s 50 feet away,” Naderi, 23, said Sunday night in a short telephone interview, speaking in hesitant English, as gunshots crackled in the background. “Maybe the Taliban will let me in – maybe. “
But on Monday, after learning that no one else would be allowed through the airport gate, Mr Naderi and his family returned to their apartment in Kabul with no clear path to Philadelphia, where he has lived for the past year. .
“All flights are closed,” he said with an incredulous laugh. “I am scared.”
Mr Naderi is among at least hundreds of US citizens and potentially thousands of green card holders stranded in Afghanistan at the end of a 20-year war that resulted not in a reliable peace, but a bridge two-week military airlift that evacuated more than 123,000 people.
Evacuations continued until the last US military flight from Kabul, which took off on Monday evening, as the Biden administration pledged to help up to 200 remaining Americans escape what they fear be a brutal life under the Taliban.
About 6,000 Americans, the vast majority of whom have dual US-Afghan nationality, were evacuated after August 14, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday. The State Department did not provide figures on the number of legal permanent residents of the United States who were also evacuated or – as in Mr Naderi’s case – who were unable to catch the plane. Immigration and refugee groups estimated there were thousands left.
Mr Blinken described “extraordinary efforts to give Americans every chance to leave the country,” as diplomats made 55,000 calls and sent 33,000 emails to US citizens in Afghanistan and, in some cases, took them to Kabul airport. The US embassy in Kabul had for months warned US citizens against travel to Afghanistan, and in early August urged those in the country to leave immediately.
“We have no illusions that this will all be easy or quick,” Blinken said at State Department headquarters in Washington. “It will be a totally different phase from the evacuation which has just ended. It will take time to overcome a new set of challenges.
“But we’re going to stay there,” he said.
Several members of Congress had demanded that the US military remain in Afghanistan until US citizens, permanent residents and approximately tens of thousands of Afghans eligible for special immigrant visas can be evacuated. But this weekend, lawmakers appeared resigned as they recognized that many would be left behind.
“Our team will continue to work to safely evacuate US citizens and Afghan allies and to reunite families and loved ones,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said on Twitter late Sunday evening. “I urge the State Department and the rest of our government to continue to use every tool possible to keep people safe, on time or not.”
Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse called the Biden administration’s exit from Afghanistan “crazy” in an interview with ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday.
“We have American citizens who are being left behind,” Mr. Sasse said. “We have US green card holders being left behind. We have Afghan allies who are SIV holders, people who fought alongside us, drivers, translators – people who actually fought with us. These people are people to whom we have made commitments.
The chaotic effort to locate, contact and then expedite U.S. citizens in Afghanistan to safety has been bogged down, officials and advocacy groups said, by a lack of coordination within the U.S. government, frustrated attempts to educate the department and increasingly frequent warnings of possible terrorist attacks that have forced airport gates to close and meeting points to be relocated.
US-based relief groups who assisted US citizens and Afghans working with the US government described a heartbreaking and dizzying process in which people trying to escape were routed, and then routed, to take points across Kabul where they were to board buses or join caravans headed for the airport, but were stranded en route.
Some people have reported that Taliban fighters at checkpoints took their US passports, aid workers said. Others said they were harassed or beaten on their way to meeting points and were unwilling to put themselves and their families at risk again. And some said they had been turned away by American troops standing guard at the airport gate.
“Why can’t we get people out? Said Freshta Taeb, the US-born daughter of an Afghan refugee, who provides emotional counseling and translation services to Afghan immigrants in the United States, including those who have worked with the US military.
Ms Taeb blamed the Biden administration for a military pullout which she said “was done haphazardly, was done negligently.”
“It was time to create a plan and do what needed to be done to get these people out,” she said. “But it doesn’t look like there was a strategy behind it.”
Ross Wilson, who was the top US diplomat in Afghanistan and was on the last military flight to leave, said on Monday on Twitter that “claims that US citizens have been turned away or denied access” to Kabul airport “by embassy staff or US forces are false.”
In Washington, officials struggled to keep up.
Military officials had privately accused the State Department of acting too slowly to deal with a crush of people begging to be evacuated. State Department officials, already facing a backlog of visa applications from Afghans, focused first on tracing Americans and verifying their citizenship.
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as leaders.
Officials said a small but unspecified number of US citizens have reported that they do not want to leave Afghanistan, that they do not want to give up their home, work or study, or refuse to leave behind parents, including elderly parents who were not American and otherwise had no outing.
Foreign-born spouses of U.S. citizens and their unmarried children under the age of 21 can immigrate to the United States after receiving certain approvals, a process that was expedited for some Afghans during the evacuation. Extended family members, such as parents, siblings and other family members, must go through an immigration process which, according to Jenna Gilbert, director of refugee representation at Human Rights First, may take “an extraordinarily long time”.
Mr. Blinken clarified that “if an American in Afghanistan tells us he wants to stay for now, then in a week, a month or a year, he reaches out to us and says, ‘I’ve changed ‘Avis’, help us to leave,’ he said.
But there are no plans to change visa requirements for extended family members who are expected to “travel to the United States under other forms of eligibility,” Ned Price, a spokesperson for the department, said on Friday.
Kabul airport is not expected to be fully functional for some time without the U.S. military, although the Biden administration is relying on allies, including Turkey and Qatar, to resume some of the operations to facilitate smaller charter flights for people who wish to leave. Mr. Blinken said. The State Department is also considering how to protect US citizens and Afghans at high risk of Taliban retaliation who travel to one of the many neighboring countries and seek safe passage to the United States from there. .
Mr Naderi said on Tuesday he did not know what to do, but was considering leaving Afghanistan through the border with Pakistan or Tajikistan. As proof of his US residency, he provided a picture of his green card, which he received last year, and said he was living with his father in Philadelphia in hopes of moving his wife and son. in the USA. (The State Department declined to comment on her case, citing privacy concerns.)
He returned to Afghanistan on August 10 to gather immigration documents for his wife and son, said his father, Esmail Naderi, who had worked for several US military companies in construction and other fields between 2004 and 2015. .
Five days later, the Taliban seized power and the United States embassy in Kabul closed its doors as diplomats were evacuated to the airport.
Obtaining the appropriate visas for the family on time was not possible. “My situation is really bad right now,” Samiullah Naderi said on Tuesday.