By BERNARD CONDON and JULIE WATSON Associated Press
Every night at a different house in the Afghan capital, a California couple holding an American green card take turns sleeping, with one still awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear. the footsteps of the Taliban.
They moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to welcome and feed them. Their days are an uncomfortable mix of fear and boredom, confined to a few rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Phone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for children who have the added benefit of silencing them.
This all happens while the agonizing wait for a call from someone who can help them out. A US State Department official contacted them several days ago to tell them that a social worker was assigned to them, but they have not heard a word since. They tried unsuccessfully to fly and are now talking to an international relief organization.
“We are afraid and we are hiding more and more,” the mother said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Whenever we feel short of breath, I pray. “
Through messages, emails and phone conversations with relatives and relief groups, AP has reconstructed what the daily lives of some of those left behind were like after the chaotic withdrawal of the US military, including US citizens, permanent residents of the United States. – cardholders and visa applicants who aided US troops during the 20 Years War.
Those contacted by AP – who are not identified for their own safety – described a scary and stealthy existence of hiding in houses for weeks, turning off lights at night, moving from place to place. other and put on loose clothing and burqas to avoid detection. if they absolutely have to venture out.
All say they are afraid that the Taliban in power will find them, throw them in jail, or even kill them because they are Americans or because they worked for the American government. And they fear that the efforts promised by the Biden administration 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 Texas truck driver visiting his family – was hoping the US State Department would finally respond to his calls for him and his parents to fly out.
Instead, it’s the Taliban.
“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen, ”said the appellant, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives with him in Texas and spoke to him afterwards. The call included a few disturbing words: “We know where you are. “
This was enough to scare the man away from the Kabul apartment where he lived with his mother, two teenage brothers and his father, who was in particular danger as he had worked for years for an American contractor overseeing operations. security agents.
“They are hopeless,” the Texas brother said. “They think, ‘We’re stuck in the apartment and no one is there to help us.’ They were left behind.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress last week that the government is not tracking US permanent residents with green cards in Afghanistan, but he estimates that several thousand people remain in the country, as well as around 100 of US citizens. He promised the US government was working to get them out.
As of Tuesday, 36 U.S. citizens had been evacuated and 24 green card holders since the U.S. military left last month, according to the State Department. Others were dispatched on Friday, but the administration has not released those figures.
Neither the United States nor the Taliban have made it clear why so few people were evacuated.
This is hardly encouraging for another Texas green card holder, a grandmother who recently watched from a rooftop activists pull over in half a dozen police cars and Humvees to take control of the house across the street.
“The Taliban. The Taliban, ”she whispered over the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman recounted to the AP. “The women and children are screaming. They drag 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 find out not only their ties to the United States, but their son’s as well. Texas, who had worked for years for an American military contractor.
His son, who has also not been named, said he called officials of the US embassy in Kabul several times before it closed, filled out all the necessary paperwork and even enlisted the help of a group of elders. fighters 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 during one of her daily calls. “What are we going to do?”
“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.
When asked in a recent interview if he believed this, the son fired back, exasperated, “What else am I supposed to tell him?” “
The Taliban government has promised to let Americans and Afghans with appropriate travel documents leave the country and not to retaliate against those who have helped the United States. But UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there was evidence they were breaking their word. She warned on Monday that the country had entered a “new and perilous phase” and cited credible reports of retaliatory killings of Afghan soldiers and allegations that the Taliban were hunting house-to-house against former officials. government officials and people who have cooperated with the US military and US companies.
PA journalists in Afghanistan are unaware of any US citizens or green card holders arrested or arrested by the Taliban. But they confirmed that several Afghans who worked for the previous government and army were recently arrested for questioning and released.
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 two weeks after the Taliban knocked on the door of their relative’s apartment to ask if the Americans stay. the.
The family moved to Sacramento four years ago after the mother got a special immigrant visa because she was working for US-funded projects in Kabul to promote women’s rights. Now the mother says that she and her daughter wore the burqa whenever they moved to their next “prison-house”.
The father, who worked as an Uber driver, had panic attacks as they waited for help.
“I don’t see the US government stepping in and getting them out anytime soon,” said elementary school principal Nate McGill, who texted with the family daily.
Distraction has become a mother’s tool of choice for protecting her children from stress. She asks them what they want to do when they get back to California and what they want to be when they grow up.
Their daughter hopes to become a doctor one day, while their sons say they want to become a teacher.
But distraction is not always enough. After a parent told the girl that the Taliban were taking little girls, she hid in a room and refused to come out until her father swelled up and said he could beat the Taliban, making her laugh.
The mother smiled, hiding her fear from her daughter, but then texted her manager.
“This life is almost half death.”
Condon reported from New York, Watson from San Diego. Kathy Gannon in Kabul and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.