New York – Every night in another home in the Afghan capital, an American green card-holder couple from California falls asleep, with one always waking up to see their three young children as they hear the Taliban footsteps and run away.
They moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to take them inside and feed them. Their days are an uneasy mix of fear and boredom, confined to a few rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Telephone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for children. Which has the added benefit of silencing them.
All this happens while desperately waiting for someone’s call that can help them out. A US State Department official contacted him several days ago to tell him he was being appointed a case worker, but he hasn’t heard a word since. They are also talking to an international rescue organization.
In a text message to the Associated Press, the mother said, “We are scared and keep hiding more and more of ourselves.” “Whenever we feel breathless, I pray.”
Through messages, emails and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups, the AP has pieced together what day-to-day life has been like for some of those left behind after the chaotic withdrawal of the US military – including US citizens , permanent U.S. residents, green-card holders and visa applicants who assisted U.S. soldiers during the 20 Years’ War.
Contacted by the AP – who has not been identified for his own safety – has spent weeks hiding in homes, keeping lights off at night, moving from place to place and wearing baggy clothes and a burqa, a gruesome, secret existence. described. Avoid finding out if they must venture at all.
Everyone says they fear the ruling Taliban will find them, put them in jail, maybe even kill them because they are Americans or have worked for the US government. And they are concerned that the promises made by the Biden administration to oust him have been stalled.
When a call came to an apartment in Kabul a few weeks ago, the American green card holder answered – a truck driver from Texas was visiting the family – hoping that the US State Department would finally respond to his pleas to get him and her. I was giving. Parents on a flight.
Instead, it was the Taliban.
“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen,” the caller said, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives in Texas with him and talks to him afterward. The call included some ominous words: “We know where you are.”
This was enough to send the man fleeing the Kabul apartment where he was living with his mother, his two teenage brothers, and his father, who were in particular danger because they had worked with an American contractor overseeing security guards. Worked for years.
“They are disappointed,” said the brother in Texas. “They think, ‘We’re stuck in the apartment and there’s no one here to help us.’ They have been left behind.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress last week that the government does not track US permanent residents with green cards in Afghanistan, but estimates that the country has several thousand people with about 100 US citizens. He promised that the US government was working to get him out.
As of Tuesday, 36 American citizens and 24 green card holders have been evacuated since the US military withdrew last month, according to the State Department. More were sent out on Friday but the administration did not release those figures.
Neither the US nor the Taliban have given a clear explanation as to why so few people were evacuated.
That’s hardly encouraging for another Texas green card holder, a grandmother who recently pulled terrorists off the roof in a half-dozen police cars and watched Humvees take over the house across the street.
“Taliban. Taliban,” she whispered over the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman told the AP. “Women and children are screaming. They are dragging men into cars.”
She and her husband, who had come to Kabul to visit relatives several months ago, are now afraid that the Taliban will expose not only their American ties, but also take back their son in Texas, who has worked for a US military contractor for years. did.
His son, who has not been named, says he called officials at the US embassy in Kabul several times before closing, completed all necessary paperwork, and even called an experienced group. And also took the help of members of Congress.
He doesn’t know what else 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 shall we do?”
“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.
When asked in a recent interview whether he believed the son shot back, angrily, “What else should I tell him?”
The Taliban government has promised Americans and Afghans to leave the country with proper travel documents and not to retaliate against those helping the United States. But UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there was evidence they were not speaking out. She warned on Monday that the country had entered a “new and dangerous phase”, and cited credible reports of retaliatory killings of Afghan military members and former Taliban government officials and people collaborating with the US military. Accused of house-to-house hunting. American companies.
AP reporters in Afghanistan are not aware of any US citizens or green card holders being picked up or arrested by the Taliban. But he has confirmed that several Afghans who worked for the previous government and the military were recently taken in for questioning.
The California family, which includes a 9-year-old girl and two boys, aged 8 and 6, say they have been on the run for the past two weeks after the Taliban knocked on the door of their relative’s apartment and were forced to live with Americans. asking about. There.
The family moved to Sacramento four years ago after the mother received a special immigrant visa as she worked for US-funded projects promoting women’s rights in Kabul. Now, the mother says that she and her daughter both wear burqas whenever they go to their next “jail-house”.
Father who works as an Uber driver has a panic attack while waiting for help.
The children’s elementary school principal, Nate McGill, who has been exchanging texts daily with the family, said, “I don’t see the US government stepping in and kicking them out any time soon.”
Distraction has become the most important tool for a mother to protect her children from stress. She asks them what they want to do when they come back to California and what they want to be when they grow up.
His daughter hopes to become a doctor someday, while his sons say they want to be a teacher.
But distraction isn’t always enough. When a relative told the daughter that the Taliban were taking away little girls, she hid in a room and refused to come out until her father blew himself up and said he could defeat the Taliban. so that he can laugh.
The mother smiled while hiding her fear from the daughter, but later messaged the principal.
“This life is almost half-death.”
Condon reported from New York, Watson from San Diego. Kathy Gannon in Kabul and Ellen Nickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.