EXCLUSIVE: American father escapes Afghanistan on his own (Part 3)
He regrets voting for Pres. Biden
This is the final story in my three-part exclusive series over eight months about an American citizen who was left behind in Afghanistan.
Start the series with part one from September here: American Snuck into Afghanistan to Save his Sisters
All my reporting since Pres. Biden ordered the U.S. withdrawal last August is in the following section: Afghanistan Project Exodus
This article is NOT behind the paywall so that people who are still trapped inside Afghanistan can read it.
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“I can’t believe it. I just landed on U.S. soil,” Ali* texted me. “Never thought I would breathe this air again.”
Ali, 32, landed at JFK Airport the last week of April. It was exactly eight months to the day since this father walked alone across a Taliban checkpoint into Afghanistan. The Connecticut resident escaped without any help from the U.S. government.
“When I took the oath to become an American citizen, I thought I’d be taken care of by my government,” Ali told me when he was home. “But now I know—it was all made up, and I’m on my own.”
I told the State Department about Ali’s return. “We are glad to hear the individual in question has returned home safely to the US,” an official said. “We remain committed to supporting American citizens, LPRs, and our Afghan allies and families in Afghanistan.”
Ali blames the Biden administration for losing eight months of his life.
“I regret my vote for Biden. This guy — he doesn’t care,” Ali told me by phone. “I wish I had voted for Trump. He was street smart, a businessman and right on point on foreign policy. He wouldn’t have let this happen. I can guarantee that.”
Ali’s parents sent him to try to rescue his sisters before the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021. However, he got left behind with thousands of others when Kabul Airport was shut down after a terrorist bomber killed 13 U.S. servicemembers.
STATE DEPARTMENT PROMISES RESCUE
As you read in part two of this series, I told the State Department in December — and again in January — that they had another American citizen in Afghanistan that they weren’t tracking to get home.
Remember, Pres. Biden and Secretary of State Blinked insisted there were only 100 American citizens left behind in Afghanistan. But I’ve been reporting since September that my sources said there were thousands.
I sent Ali’s real name, passport and contact information to high-level officials at State. They sent his information to consular affairs to verify his status and investigate whether they were tracking him for evacuation — which they were not. That fixed the first problem.
Ali texted that he was about to get rescued:
He showed me the following email from the State Department:
I pointed out to him that “manifests” was plural. “I bet that means that you’re not on the next flight, but on one of the next flights,” I told him in an attempt to manage his expectations.
“I see, you’re too good,” he texted back. “At least they contacted me.”
I emailed the State Department official to thank him. The official said that Ali was now being tracked on their list of American citizens (AMCITs) in Afghanistan.
However, Ali could not be placed on any flight because the Taliban shut them down. (Read more about that winter period here.) As you read in part two of this story, Ali was running out of both money and food. I asked State to help him, but they weren’t aware of any available resources.
SAVE HIS SISTERS
When the State Department called Ali in mid-February to get more information, he told them that he needed 15 seats for his sisters, their families, and his sister-in-law, who is married to his brother, who is a legal permanent resident in America.
That request got him bumped from the State Department flight list.
When I heard about this from State, I told Ali that the U.S. was working to get the people out whose lives were in immediate danger from the Taliban and who already had visas in their passports.
He needed to come to terms with leaving his family behind.
“If they manifest you for one seat to come home, will you take it?” I asked him.
“They asked me the same question, and I said yes,” he replied. “Do I have any other choice?”
I understood that he was under pressure from living for four months with his sisters, who his parents told him to bring home with him — the goal of this brave endeavor — but it just was not possible anymore.
Read more about his sister, who is a doctor, and the other women he had to leave behind in part one.
DESPERATE FOR RESCUE
We worked out a new plan to get the State Department to put him back on the AMCIT manifest list by asking for only one seat. He got the following email back:
So, Ali was at the back of the line again, and the danger was increasing.
HIDING FROM TALIBAN
“I’m hearing rumors that things are getting worse there. Are you okay?” I texted him on March 6.
“There’s a search going on,” Ali responded, referring to the Taliban looking for the Americans and allies who were left behind. “I’m afraid, and I’ve lost mental peace. Thank you for asking and staying in contact.”
He thanked me for staying in contact because there was no support system from the government for Ali (or any of the people I’ve profiled).
They couldn’t get advice about changing security issues, help to get food and lodging, and there was no phone number to call for help. Americans like Ali are left terrified and uninformed while waiting for emails from unnamed officials.
Ali told me that the U.S. was telling Afghan allies to take an overland route to escape. I heard the same from the Afghan who had worked for USAID, who I wrote about here.
“They are evacuating people to Pakistan, and from there to the U.S.,” Ali said.
“Can you get to Pakistan? Will they help to get you there safely?” I asked.
“I need a visa to get there, and I’m worried about crossing with a U.S. passport,” he replied.
“Do not go to Pakistan without State saying it’s okay,” I ordered him.
“I won’t. Pakistan is not trustable unless State is aware,” he responded.
Last fall, I put together a group text for the American citizens who I knew in Afghanistan so that they could help each other on the ground. I asked Ali to take the lead on it because I didn’t want to put them at risk by having my U.S. phone number in the group.
“What happened to the group text of Americans I put you together on?” I asked him, hopeful that they could agree to not move unless they all found a safe route.
“They all disappeared. No one is talking,” he replied.
“Hi, I’m coming soon,” Ali texted on April 22. Here’s our exchange:
“Should I ask State if it’s real this time? Have any of their flights taken off recently?” I asked, assuming he was finally getting on the U.S. flights.
“I heard that many flights have taken off,” he said.
I offered to call the State Department to get him on a flight.
“Please don’t,” he said. “State is not helpful at all. I have given up hope. Eight months of my life.”
A State Department official responded, “Without being able to directly comment on individual passengers’ travel for personal safety and flight operation integrity issues, what I will reemphasize is that from December through March, the U.S. was unable to support travel out of Afghanistan due to issues out of our control.”
The issues out of their control is referring to the Taliban blocking the rescue charter flights paid for by the United States on Qatar Airways.
Ali has another plan. He sent this hopeful text:
Three days later, I got the good news from Ali in this text:
“Oh, thank God!! I’m so happy and relieved,” I replied.
Ali told me that a nonprofit that works on Afghan refugee resettlement had helped him get funding for a plane ticket on the Afghanistan airline KamAir.
“I walked right into Kabul Airport and handed them my U.S. passport,” he said, sounding stunned. “I could have done that all this time, and no one told me.”
A Biden administration source told me the U.S. can’t pay for travel on KamAir because of its Iranian connections and related sanctions.
He said that he flew on a “half-full” commercial flight to a Mideast country. He then changed planes, which made one stop and landed in New York.
That’s when I got his text about once again breathing free in America, here:
When I called, I expected him to be happy to be free and back with his wife and three-and six-year-old boys. However, he had been through too much in those eight months.
“I think I have a trauma. I can’t stop shaking,” he told me.
Of course, he’s traumatized. Could any of us go behind Taliban lines and live in terror of never escaping and come out the same?
Two days after he got home, a State Department official called. The man asked Ali if he was still in Afghanistan because they were ready to evacuate him.
“I said, ‘Seriously?” recalled Ali. “That call made it clear that the State Department doesn’t know anything.”
Ali thinks that the disorganization of tracking people demonstrates a national security threat.
“After eight months in Afghanistan, I just land in JFK, and no one is there to at least ask, ‘Hey, what happened?’”
*Ali asked to keep his name anonymous to protect his sisters, who are still in Afghanistan.
NOTE: Ali needs a job, a support system, and resources to rebuild his life and take care of his family. If you know of any charities that could help this American who got left behind in Afghanistan, please let me know in the comments.
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