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Afghan Allies Are Worried About Being Left Behind As Americans Evacuate


If President Biden's speech on Tuesday was meant to reassure Afghans that the U.S. will not abandon them, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan sends a different message. Communications throughout the country are getting more difficult. But NPR's Quil Lawrence has managed to reach some Afghans and has prepared this report. A note here that this story uses first names only to protect the people who shared with us.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: President Biden specifically said he expects all American citizens can be evacuated by next week. He was less emphatic about getting out all the other people that America has pledged to help. Laila is an activist and businesswoman from Kandahar.

LAILA: They told me, we are calling you for you, for you can to come to airport...

LAWRENCE: The phone line is bad, but she says the U.S. embassy told her they would help her get her family out if they could make it to Kabul. She traveled with her family of seven to a hotel there.

LAILA: Just waiting for the U.S.A. and the embassy - for the call.

LAWRENCE: And she's still waiting for the embassy to call. They went to the airport. In the mob outside the gates, there was shooting, and they fled. Her husband, Hekmat, says their young children were traumatized and don't want to leave the hotel now.

HEKMAT: Mr. President Biden said we cannot leave. This is the only hope for us.

LAWRENCE: Hekmat watched President Biden's speech on Tuesday and heard Biden say he won't leave American allies behind. But Laila and Hekmat's offices in Kandahar have already been looted, and they fear for their lives. The Taliban have promised no reprisals. But activists from around the country and the United Nations report attacks by Taliban gunmen.

PARIS: (Speaking non-English language).

LAWRENCE: In the western city of Herat, 20-year-old Paris (ph), a law student and activist, says she and most women are afraid to be in the streets or anywhere in public, despite Taliban statements that women will be allowed to go to school.

PARIS: (Speaking non-English language).

LAWRENCE: She says women need support from the international community to make sure the Taliban understand that women's rights are a red line, and 20 years of progress must not be lost. The Biden administration says it wants to help people like her - women activists. People like Laila and Hekmat are eligible for visas because they worked for U.S. projects. But the U.S. has not promised to evacuate people like them. Promises have been made to those who worked for the U.S. military over the years.

ALI: Well, it's all been 14 - almost 14 years right now. I started earlier in 2007.

LAWRENCE: A military interpreter who goes by Ali (ph) was working with the U.S. until two months ago. The International Refugee Assistance Project documented his claim. They say his family is still stuck in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban have come looking for him there. Ali is in the process of getting his special immigrant visa, which was promised to him by the American troops he served with. They said they'd protect him.

ALI: The - yes, we'll be - definitely going to help you out in case you're in a bad situation, that you're not alone. You are best friend. We're working shoulder-to-shoulder. You're my family.

LAWRENCE: Many Americans learn the Afghan phrase shona ba shona. It means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone. President Biden even used it in his speech yesterday. But Ali says he's reaching out right now and no one can help him. Ali says he did the work because he believed in building a new Afghanistan. But in this moment, he's come to regret helping the United States.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.