Names in this story were changed to protect identities.
The United States’ longest war is over, but the battle for Afghan-Americans to recover their families is just beginning.
Henry, an Afghan-American translator, is just one of the many people still dealing with the fallout of the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal operations. After the last group of U.S. military took flight from Afghanistan to meet the president’s August 31 deadline, hundreds of Americans and Afghan allies who assisted the U.S.’s decades-long occupation in Afghanistan were left behind, including Henry’s wife, brother, and children as young as three years old.
Henry, who received his U.S. citizenship in 2020 after spending time in the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program, lives and works in the United States, so when the Taliban advanced into Kabul and the Afghan government fled in mid-August, his first priority was getting his family, who was still tied up trying to enter the U.S. immigration process, out of the Middle East country and to safety with him.
“I received an email from the U.S. Embassy. They had a pass in the email. It said ‘please go to the airport,’ you know, ‘take your family, go to the airport,'” Henry told The Federalist.
Henry’s family rushed to pack up and travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport airport in Kabul but when they got there, they met crowds of thousands of other Americans and Afghans hoping to reach the U.S.-controlled area where they could catch a lifeline flight out of the country. It took them two days to navigate their way through the desperate mob, which previously trampled a 2-year-old girl to death, before they reached the right gate.
Once they got inside the terminal, Henry’s family faced another crowd of people hoping to get bussed to a departure spot. There, his wife and kids sat for two more days in the heat without any supplies. At one point, Henry lost contact with his family because his wife lost her phone, her purse, and even some jewelry after being jostled by other panicked people fleeing the Taliban.
“They were not prepared,” Henry said. “They didn’t have water and no food, nothing.”
“My family and everybody else was asking about water because the kids were getting unconscious. They were asking the Marine guys to see if they can provide some water. My wife was calling me. And I was like, helpless and I was trying to see if I can talk to one of those marine soldiers out there so that he or she could provide some water to them. And they were saying they don’t even have water. Like no water, no food, so just be patient, you know, and that was a really sad moment,” Henry said.
Henry also tried calling some of his friends in the military who he used to work in Afghanistan to see if they could help his family.
“After talking to them, me and my American Marine friends were like begging to those guys out there to at least provide some water for those people and those children. And finally they would, from somewhere, find like two or three bottles of water,” Henry said.
The water, however, didn’t last. It wasn’t long before Henry said people were instructed to go home or risk dehydration and starvation. Henry said a lot of people left but his wife was determined to stay.
“My wife, she said ‘if it takes me whatever, I’m gonna stay here. If they’re gonna take me, I’m gonna stay here so I can go and get with the dad of my kids together,'” Henry said. “So she stayed there. Those two days, they were just begging for water and luckily they were getting some water and that was after getting in contact with my Marine guys and the army guys.”
After six days of waiting, Henry said buses finally came to get his wife and kids, but their joy didn’t last for long. When his family failed to show a U.S. passport or green card, they were told to go home.
“All they had was the Afghan passports and they had the path that I sent which was from the U.S. Embassy,” Henry said. “…It was a very sad moment.”
The U.S. military may have turned Henry’s family away, but all hope was not lost.
“After six days, somehow these people, like angels, they fall from the sky and say ‘we will do our best to get to your family here because they’re the family of the U.S. citizen.’ And I shared that with my wife. And she got so happy. That was a happy one,” Henry said.
Much like the Pineapple Express, the group assisting Henry is using covert, private operations to assist Americans who felt abandoned by the Biden administration’s abrupt departure. This “hodgepodge” of individuals, some of which have served in the U.S. military in special operations or still do, are “actively shepherding” people who are at risk of Taliban retaliation out of the country.
Others are using their knowledge and relationships with translators and connections on the ground to relay information to the network of rescuers who have the skills and resources to complete private missions and step in after the Biden administration failed. One group member told The Federalist that they have successfully rescued approximately 200 people.
“Then we were going through whatever these guys were guiding us like to go,” Henry said. “…My wife never gave up, and she was going to wherever we were saying.”
These same individuals are also assisting Henry with getting his family into U.S. immigration proceedings. Henry previously spent months bouncing between bureaucratic agencies and even hired an expensive lawyer to help him get his family to the United States through the same program he used.
“I also applied for my wife and my kids when I came here. They were also in the process that they will be here sometime. And that actually took like four years and I was just running around with immigration, providing them all the documentation, and the passport, everything that they needed. And still, I guess, it’s because maybe there are too many people who applied for that…every time they were thinking that it’s under review…They took forever,” Henry said.
But when these “angels” swept in, they also paid Henry’s lawyer and helped expedite the process for Henry to be reunited with his wife and kids in the states.
“We got approval confirmation for my family and the lawyer is working on it because these guys, like I said, the angels, they paid the remaining balance for my family. They can get the visas after the interview,” Henry said.
The rescue mission for Henry’s family is still underway, but Henry said he already feels much more optimistic than he did in August.
“I’m so happy,” Henry said. “I hope my family would come here soon so we can go and see these people up close and hug these people. Their kids are praying…for my daughters, every day.”