She's constantly calling her four young children who are hiding in a Kabul apartment
By Christina Maxouris, CNN
(CNN) -- Suneeta hasn't been able to sleep in days.
Instead, she's been constantly calling and texting her four children, all younger than 18 -- the youngest only 7 -- who are hiding by themselves in an apartment in Kabul, Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from her Albany, New York, home.
She's scared and restless and said she hasn't been able to go into work or do anything but worry since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan and retook the country's capital Sunday. With fighters controlling the streets of the city, her children are scared to step out, she said, even for a quick trip to the nearby grocery store.
Suneeta, who did not want her full name or her children's names published by CNN because of safety concerns, said she fears the children are in grave danger because her husband worked with US troops before he went missing roughly eight years ago.
Now, all she wants is to get her children to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and to Albany.
"I'm lost, and my soul is with my kids," she told CNN through an interpreter. "I'm asking help from everyone, especially from President Joe Biden, to help us, my family and my kids."
Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Afghans living in the United States have scrambled to get their families out of Afghanistan -- appealing to neighbors back home, friends in America and government officials in hopes that someone can help. The Taliban say they will grant "blanket amnesty" for everyone in Afghanistan, but many who remember horrors from the group's previous rule are skeptical about the promise and say instances of intimidation have already begun.
And like Suneeta, many who are frantically working from the United States to get their families out worry about the retribution their loved ones may face from Taliban fighters for supporting US forces.
"This is like a nightmare," the mother of four said. "I'm very scared."
No safe way out
Sara Lowry, a staff attorney for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants who has been working with Suneeta since her move in 2018, said the American government approved humanitarian parole -- a status that allows people under immediate threat to seek refuge in the United States -- for the children. But they have not been able to get a visa issued since that approval in June 2020, Lowry said.
The attorney is calling on the American government to help arrange an escort for the children, who are unsupervised and in hiding, to the airport and help get them to the States.
"We're just terrified that we're not going to be able to get these children out," Lowry said.
"If there are other countries that are willing to go get them, if there are journalists still in the city that are willing to be an escort for them, we are appealing ... to everyone, everywhere, please help us," she added.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon and State Department issued conflicting statements about the ability of US citizens and Afghans to reach Kabul's airport. While the State Department said it could not ensure safe transit to the airfield, the Pentagon said the Taliban are "guaranteeing safe passage" for American citizens. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters that officials are aware of reports that the Taliban, "contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport."
A Colorado man who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity said he moved to the United States with his wife in 2014 after helping US forces for several years in Afghanistan. After Biden's announcement that US troops would be pulling out of the country, his wife and children decided to visit their family back home over the summer, unsure of what the future of Afghanistan would look like after Americans left.
But he said this week, a day before they were scheduled to fly back to the US, they received a message that their flight was canceled. The man said he called his friends in Afghanistan to ask if they could escort his family to the airport but everyone was afraid to do so.
"There are Talibans all over the cities," he said, adding that he has heard militants have set up checkpoints to stop and search people walking by. "If they find any evidence or having any documentation that proves you've been an ally of US forces ... they would make you a victim. That is one reason my family cannot go to the airport."
He said a friend was eventually able to transport his wife and children to the airport, where they boarded a plane to Qatar. But the rest of his family, including his mother and brothers, are still hiding in Kabul, he said.
Many fear their families will face retribution
One man, who spoke to CNN's Don Lemon from New Mexico on Tuesday under the alias "Srosh," said he worked as a translator with American forces. Because of his work, he said the Taliban shot and killed his brother outside their home in 2014.
"I lost my brother 'cause of working with Americans, and I still have my family down there," he said. "I don't want to lose another brother."
Srosh told his family in Kabul to stay home instead of going to the airport, where harrowing images emerged this week of crowds attempting to flee the country -- and he's now working to find alternate ways to get them out of Afghanistan.
"I helped Americans down there in the battlefield and now I need help. I need help as soon as possible. I desperately need help," he said. "I want them to get (my family) out as soon as possible."
Ismail Khan, who spent several years alongside US troops as a translator, is now in Seattle and working to get not only his family, but many other families out of Afghanistan.
"My story is every single Afghan's story who helped US forces in Afghanistan," Khan told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night. "I split my family in four different locations to make sure they are safe."
He said he hasn't been able to sleep at night because he's been receiving calls and emails from Afghanistan from families who are "begging for help" and asking him to get them out of a "kill zone."
"I was talking to my mom and I said, if anything happens to any of you, I will be blaming myself for the rest of my life," he told Cuomo. "My brothers, they're young, they've never seen the Taliban government, they've never seen how wild and merciless they are."
Sam, a former interpreter for the US military, spoke to Cuomo under the alias a day earlier and said he is also trying to get his family to safety from thousands of miles away.
His family lives in northern Afghanistan and cannot make it to Kabul and the airport, he said.
"They have to pass those provinces that (are) heavily controlled by the Taliban and that's not safe enough to do that. That's even (more) dangerous than staying at home," he said.
Sam said despite the Taliban's promise about "amnesty," Afghans do not believe the group will stand by their word and he said he has already heard reports from locals that Taliban militants are searching homes.
Sam said that while the US military promised it would help keep its Afghan allies and their families safe and help them evacuate, he's now running into walls trying to get his family out of the country, especially now that the US embassy in Kabul has been evacuated.
"I feel like we were abandoned. I have a brother (who) worked over a decade with the German forces. Right now he's in Kabul," Sam said. "He has his visas and passport in his pocket, but he cannot catch no flight."
And with the Taliban's checkpoints, he fears his brother will get caught and the militants will find out he was an ally to foreign forces.
"I can't sleep at night just for that," Sam said. "Just thinking he has another week to live."
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