Wakil’s eyes fill with tears. He has no idea whether he and his family will get out of Afghanistan, and fears that if they don’t the Taliban will hunt him down and kill him.
A former US government employee, Wakil is not his real name; he spoke to CNN on the condition that his identify would not be revealed.
He has been stranded in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif along with hundreds of other Afghans. All have worked closely with US federal agencies and the US military over the past decade and more. Most, like Wakil, either hold Special Immigrant Visas or were in the process of obtaining them when the Taliban overran Kabul.
Wakil said his family – he has three young daughters – was on a list compiled by the US State Department to be flown out of Kabul last month. But as they were trying to get into the airport, a suicide bomber struck, killing more than 170 people. Immediately after the bombing at Kabul airport on August 26, he said, he and his family – and dozens of others – were bussed north to Mazar-i-Sharif.
“I received a message from my former supervisor to go to Mazar-i-Sharif and that we would be taken to Doha [Qatar] from there,” he said.
Now Wakil feels forgotten and in danger.
“I am requesting from the U.S. Government that they should not leave us behind,” he told CNN in Mazar-i-Sharif. “We provided services for 15 or 16 years. I was on really bad missions. My friends were killed… They should not forget us.”
Two decades of loyalty
Wakil says he first started working for the Americans in the fall of 2001, when he was with a security company that deployed him to the mountains around Tora Bora – the last hold-out of al Qaeda. He was there four months, he told CNN. Subsequently, he says, he worked for the US Treasury’s mission in Afghanistan, helping with its logistics, and more recently for the Embassy’s visa department.
He told CNN that many of his Afghan colleagues have already been killed and he fears for his life every day. “They know me, that I’m working with the US Government especially with the US Embassy,” he told CNN.
“Definitely I will be killed by them. I don’t want to stay here because I’m in a very big risk.”
For now, he and the dozens like him are camping in difficult conditions at hotels in Mazar-i-Sharif Many are sleeping on floors. “The conditions are terrible,” he said – adding that his wife and youngest daughter had become sick.
On Friday, a chartered flight was finally allowed to leave Mazar-i-Sharif’s airport carrying hundreds of people – Americans, legal US residents and Afghans, according to US-based advocacy group Allied Airlift 21. The advocacy group said about 400 evacuees were aboard the Kam Air flight, which arrived in Doha on Friday, and that some of the passengers will eventually be resettled in the United States. Wakil was not one of the lucky ones on board.
Earlier, he told CNN that he still hoped the US will come to his rescue. “They didn’t betray us yet.”
As the father of three girls – aged 11, 7 and 2 – he also wants to escape Afghanistan for the sake of their futures. “The Taliban [is] not allowing them to go to school so for this reason I have to go, I have to leave. I don’t care about my [own] future.”
A heartbreaking price
On September 7, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference in Qatar: “There are groups of people who are grouped together, some of whom have the appropriate travel documents – an American passport, a green card, a visa – and others do not.”
But several US senators have been fiercely critical of the State Department’s handling of the situation. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, tweeted on September 6: “My staff and I have worked night and day to secure the safe passage of two planes waiting in Mazar-i-Sharif to take American citizens, at-risk Afghan allies, and their families to safety.”
“I have been deeply frustrated, even furious, at our government’s delay and inaction,” Blumenthal said.
Wakil says that while he himself clings to hope, his family feel they’ve been abandoned.
“I hope and I dream but for the family for my wife it’s difficult for them. I cannot convince them that we will be living in the United States. They are asking me, no they left you. They left you behind.”
But even if he escapes Mazar-i-Sharif with his wife and three young daughters, he must still pay a heartbreaking price for being a friend to America. His mother cannot come with them, as she is sick and still in Kabul.
“She’s alone there. I don’t have anyone to support her. Everyone just… I am crying…”