Stranded in Kabul, Afghanistan: US resident running out of options

WASHINGTON – For more than a week, Samiullah Naderi, a lawful U.S. permanent resident, waited day and night with his wife and son outsid...


WASHINGTON – For more than a week, Samiullah Naderi, a lawful U.S. permanent resident, waited day and night with his wife and son outside Kabul airport, Afghanistan, hoping to be admitted so that they can go on one of the dozens of daily flights to America.

“It’s 50 feet away,” said Mr Naderi, 23, known as Sammy, on Sunday night in a short telephone interview, speaking in hesitant English, as gunshots crackled. background. “Maybe the Taliban will let me in – maybe. “

But on Monday, after learning that no one would be allowed through the airport gate, Mr. Naderi and his family returned to their apartment in Kabul with no clear path back to Philadelphia, where he has lived for the year. last.

“All flights are closed,” he said with an incredulous laugh. “I am scared.”

Mr. Naderi is among at least hundreds of U.S. citizens and potentially thousands of green card holders stranded in Afghanistan at the end of a 20-year war which resulted not in a reliable peace, but in a two-week military airlift that evacuated over 123,000 people.

Evacuations continued until the last US military flight from Kabul, which took off Monday evening, as the Biden administration pledged to help up to 200 Americans who remained to escape what they fear was a brutal life under the Taliban.

“At the end of the day: 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” President Biden said on Tuesday. He said the US government had alerted the Americans 19 times since March to leave Afghanistan.

“And for the remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” he said. “We remain committed to getting them out if they want to get out.”

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 the case of Mr. Naderi, 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.

“We have no illusions that this will all be easy or quick,” Blinken said at State Department headquarters in Washington. “It will be an entirely 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.

Many members of Congress had demanded that the U.S. military remain in Afghanistan until U.S. 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 on Tuesday decried Mr. Biden’s comments as a demonstration of “cruel indifference to the Americans he has abandoned behind enemy lines.”

“He promised the American people that our troops would stay until all Americans came out,” Sasse, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

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 of state and increasingly frequent warnings of possible attacks that have forced the closure of airport gates and the relocation of meeting points.

Relief groups in the United States who have assisted American citizens and Afghans who have worked with the United States government have described a heartbreaking and dizzying process in which those trying to escape were routed, and then routed, to Pick-up points across Kabul where they had to board buses or join caravans. headed for the airport, but were stranded on the way.

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 who stood 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 withdrawal 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 America’s top diplomat in Afghanistan and was on the last military flight to leave, said 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 officers had accused in private the State Department to act too slowly to deal with a crush of people begging to be evacuated. State Department officials, already facing a backlog of Afghan visa applications that began under the Trump administration, initially focused on finding Americans and verifying their citizenship.

Officials said that a small but unspecified number of U.S. citizens had reported that they did not want to flee Afghanistan, did not want to abandon their home, work or study, or refused to leave relatives behind, including elderly parents who were not Americans and otherwise had no way out.

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, could take “an extraordinarily long time”.

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,” department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday.

The Kabul airport not expected to be fully operational for some time without the US military, although the Biden administration is relying on allies including Turkey and Qatar to resume some of the operations to facilitate small charter flights for those who wish to leave, 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 from 2004 to 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.



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