Mon | Oct 25, 2021

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

Published:Saturday | September 18, 2021 | 5:35 PM
This September 2021 photo provided by their mother shows three children in Afghanistan. Every night, their father, a US green card holder from California, and his wife take turns sleeping, with one always awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear the footsteps of the Taliban. (AP Photo)

Every night in yet another house in Afghanistan's capital, a United States green card-holding husband and wife from California take turns sleeping, with one always awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear the footsteps of the Taliban.

They've moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to take them in and feed them.

Their days are an uncomfortable mix of fear and boredom, restricted to a couple of rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Telephone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for the children that have the added benefit of keeping them quiet.

All of it goes on during the agonising wait for a call from anybody who can help them get out.

A US State Department official contacted them several days ago to tell them they were being assigned a caseworker, but they haven't heard a word since. They tried and failed to get on a flight and now are talking to an international rescue organisation.

“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.”

Through messages, emails and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups, AP has pieced together what day-to-day life has been like for some of those left behind after the US military's chaotic withdrawal -- that includes US citizens, permanent US resident green-card holders and visa applicants who aided US troops during the 20-year war.

Those contacted by AP -- who are not being identified for their own safety -- described a fearful, furtive existence of hiding in houses for weeks, keeping the lights off at night, moving from place to place, and donning baggy clothing and burqas to avoid detection if they absolutely must venture out.

All say they are scared the ruling Taliban will find them, throw them in jail, perhaps even kill them because they are Americans or had worked for the US government.

And they are concerned that the Biden administration's promised efforts to get them out have stalled.

When the phone rang in an apartment in Kabul a few weeks ago, the US green card holder who answered -- a truck driver from Texas visiting family -- was hopeful it was the US State Department finally responding to his pleas to get him and his parents on a flight out.

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 with him in Texas and spoke to him afterwards.

The call included a few ominous words: “We know where you are.”

That was enough to send the man fleeing from the Kabul apartment where he had been staying with his mother, his two teenage brothers and his father, who was in particular danger because he had worked for years for a US contractor overseeing security guards.

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