They had enrolled at the American University of Afghanistan because they saw it as an opportunity, a pathway to a better future.
But now, in the words of one student, “I do not dream and hope for my future. My future is not safe in Afghanistan, and it looks very dark here in Afghanistan.”
Student A, whose name CNN is not using for their safety, is one of hundreds of AUAF students who were left behind during US military evacuation efforts, despite an effort to get them to the airport before all US forces left.
One month after the US military evacuation ended, AUAF students are afraid, guarding their movements out of concern about Taliban reprisal. Although Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated that AUAF partners would be among the priority groups for evacuation moving forward, the students CNN spoke to are still awaiting clear answers on if and when they will be able to leave Afghanistan.
“More and more people run out of their savings account day by day,” said a student who CNN is calling B, who described an atmosphere of “hunger,” “fear” and “uncertainty” in Afghanistan.
“The situation is getting worse day by day and we are losing hope,” said another student, C.
A fourth student, D, told CNN, “I sometimes check Twitter and I see some tweets made by the Taliban in which they talk about our university. To be honest it really terrifies me.”
“All the crimes the Taliban have committed against education through the years make me and my fellow students a prime candidate for prosecution under their rules,” they said.
“We are still waiting for what is to come for us,” D added.
‘An enormous obligation’
Leslie Schweitzer, the chair of the Friends of American University of Afghanistan, said there are more than 3,000 students, staff and family members remaining in the country, with whom they’ve been communicating “all the time.”
“If we have a safe form of movement, we will get in touch with them. We have a constant flow of questions from people who are being threatened in their homes, who are unable to leave their homes,” she told CNN. “We’ve also had reports from some of the students who’ve been evacuated that Taliban has entered their empty homes, searching for documents, etc. It’s really important for us to stay in touch with them.”
“We have an enormous obligation to all of AUAF because each of these people involved with us, the Afghans, it was a risk from day one, just because of who we are, just because it’s the American University of Afghanistan, we teach in English, it’s an American form of education and is co-ed,” she told CNN.
AUAF opened in 2006 – its creation was announced by then-first lady Laura Bush during a trip to Kabul the year prior. Over more than a decade, the US government invested more than $150 million in the university, which became known as one of the country’s best and attracted top students. It had survived a deadly terror attack in 2016 by suspected Taliban militants, reopening the next year.
The Taliban seized the AUAF campus almost immediately after the US military completed its withdrawal in August.
“They had their flag on the campus’ watchtowers the very first day of the fall of Kabul,” student D said.
Student A told CNN that “hundreds” of Taliban are now on the campus that AUAF students once considered a second home.
Schweitzer said the Taliban have shared photos of themselves standing “on the stairway inside the Women’s Center, which is a 70,000-square-foot building dedicated to women’s economic empowerment,” she said. “The irony of that is quite extraordinary.”
Student D told CNN that even though they are “physically fine, I can’t deny the fact that the situation has affected me and my fellow students mentally at a different level.”