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War frays nerves of Afghan-Americans

Zarmina Khalili: "It's been like three, four days I haven't slept."  

By Thelma Gutierrez

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- For Afghan-Americans, the U.S.-led campaign against their homeland's ruling Taliban is hard to watch.

"It's been like three, four days I haven't slept," Zarmina Khalili said. "And I can't eat because when I eat, you know, I can't -- it just gets stuck in my throat because I think that all my people, they are hungry there, and God knows what's going on there right now. And I'm really depressed."

Though far from the war, many Afghan immigrants remain close to their culture through family ties and television images.

Khalili and her daughter Zohra watch news of bombs raining down on what was once their home from the comfort and safety of a Los Angeles suburb. They watch images of desperate men, women and children on videotape, shot in refugee camps by Khalili's husband, Abul.

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"He's helping his people, and he's giving them the supplies like food, medicine, clothes," she said.

Abul Khalili left Los Angeles more than a month ago. His wife and children last heard from him when he was about to cross the border into Afghanistan.

Once a parking valet, he founded a nonprofit charity called the Afghanistan Relief Organization. He has distributed donations of food, clothes and medical supplies to refugees since 1998.

Plastic tents, jackets and shoes were donated by Afghan-Americans, who say it is now harder to enjoy a meal while so many go hungry.

"[Abul Khalili] said there's been like times that for 10 days we didn't have food," his wife told CNN. "There's no food, no water, nothing."

Zohra, 14, said she is haunted by an image of a 13-year-old Afghan girl whom her father videotaped on a trip in March.

"She was very sick. My dad told me she was very, very deeply hungry," she said. Abul Khalili left the girl's side, visited other children, then returned a few hours later to find her dead.

Abul Khalili has distributed donations of food, clothes and medical supplies to Afghan refugees since 1998.  

"When I heard that, I was so shocked, and I couldn't believe that girl died," Zohra said.

Zarmina Khalili said her husband has made the trip to Afghanistan eight times to provide humanitarian relief. She said she believes he is there, somewhere in the north. But she hasn't spoken with him "because there is no way that we can have communication."

"I'm afraid that he might get killed, but at the same time I know that he's going to make it because he's a very brave man and I'm very, very proud of him," she said.


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