Single, American Woman ‘Trapped’ by Taliban in Kabul

The State Department and her senator will not help

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A single American woman from California is hiding from the Taliban in Kabul. Fatima asked the State Department and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) for help, but got none. Fatima (not her real name) is terrified and desperate for help. She has been through a series of shocking tragedies in the last year that has left her trapped in Afghanistan.

“I’m a U.S. Citizen and terrified and desperate to leave this country, which is now under the rule of the cruel Taliban,” she wrote to me in the first email. 

Fatima flew to Kabul in October 2020 for one of her nephew’s weddings. “I planned on staying here for a while with them -- until the tragic incident happened, and their parents went missing,” she emailed about her brother and his wife   “There is no information about them, if they are alive or not. So I am left here as a guardian to my nephews.”

Fatima’s brother and his wife disappeared a month ago. They were in Laghman Province, where he was one of the heads of the tribe. She said that she and her three nephews searched for the couple for a while.

“But then, for our own safety, we thought it was best to just wait for any possible news about them  because there didn't seem to be much we could do,” she said. “And even now, I think it's best for the safety of my nephews to not make it too prominent.”

So Fatima took over as guardian for her nephews. The youngest will be 19-years-old on Sept. 11.  The other two are in their early 30s. “The wife of my eldest nephew, who is now like a daughter-in-law to me, is pregnant and expecting a baby soon. I'm taking care of her, as a mother.”

First her brother and sister in law disappeared without a trace, then came the swift Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Fatima did not know that she had to get out of Afghanistan quickly. The American government said it would be months or longer before the Taliban took control of the country. But then the Taliban rolled into Kabul and took over the Presidential Palace on Aug. 15.

“When the government collapsed,  it was shocking and very sudden. No one was ready for it,” she said.

She knew it was now a rush to escape before the U.S. left the country on Aug. 31. She tried calling her government to find out what to do. She said the State Department didn’t reply to the online reparation form.  She also called the emergency assistance number on State’s form. ”It kept ringing, but no one would pick up.” 

“As Aug. 31 deadline was getting closer, we got desperate and went to the airport without an email [from State] — just waving our passports in the hope of getting any possible attention,” Fatima recalled. But they could never get through the huge crowd and through the gate, even with her American passport.  The last time they tried to get a flight out of Afghanistan was Aug. 25. 

“We were planning to go again on the night of the 26th, but it was evening when we heard about the twin blasts outside the airport.” The explosions were from the ISIS-K suicide bomber who killed 13 US troops and many more Afghan people. 

“We heard on the news that no one should come to the airport, until they tell us. 'No one will be left behind', they said.” No one ever told to to go the airport so was left stranded. Her government lied to her. 

She saw on the news around 1am on Aug. 31 that the last U.S military plane left Afghanistan. “It thrashed our hopes,” she said. “And we realized that we are left behind. And now we are trapped.” 

Fatima is worried for her family because her nephews will need a Special Immigration Visa (SIV) to go to the U.S. with her. She says they are all at “high risk” of being targeted by the Taliban. Her eldest nephew worked for USAID, the State Department offshoot agency. Also, they believe they are in serious danger by the people who took Fatima’s brother and wife. 

“I can't leave them when their lives are at risk,” she wrote to me. “I won't be going anywhere without them. They are my family and all I have.” 

Fatima has tried contacting every one she could think of in the U.S. government in the past weeks. She still has not heard back from the State Department. Since the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is closed, there’s no one to help her. 

Her own senator has failed to do his job. “I have talked to the assistants for Senator Alex Padilla several times and they have my information,  and they know where I am. Every single time, they tell me that they would help, but then I don't get any response back.” 

After I started emailing with Fatima this week, I’ve tweeted repeatedly to Padilla’s office about her case and got no reply. I called Wednesday and the office was on voice mail at 4:30pm. I called again Thursday and left a message for the press secretary and a case manager. No one in Padilla’s office has returned my calls either. 

“We are feeling helpless. The only choice we have left is just wait for any possible reply from the U.S government,” she emailed me. “We stay home all the time, but even if we have to go outside we leave our phones at home because sometimes the Taliban checks the phones of the civilians.”

Fatima saw my reporting and emailed me directly this week: “You are the only hope that I am left with,” she wrote, “I hope that I get a response and help from you.”

I immediately forwarded her email to our Project Exodus team of retired special forces operators who are helping her find a safer place to stay and assisting with passport and visa issues for the family. When the U.S. government stopped doing its job, the American people jumped in to fill the void. But it shouldn’t be this way. 

I am sharing this part of an email not to toot my own horn but to illustrate how pathetic our government has been when it left behind Americans in Afghanistan 11 days ago:

“Finding you seems like a miracle, as you are the only source from which I am getting a response back.”

Fatima’s only response is from a journalist she found online? I’m sure any American citizen who got her emails would respond and do whatever it takes to help her. But this is the job of our government. 

If Pres. Biden told the truth that there are only 100-200 Americans in Afghanistan, then it should be easy to assign State Department teams to talk to each of the people on the phone every day.

The State Department should give all the Americans and green card holders daily updates on what areas are more dangerous, providing status updates on rescue plans and just checking on them.

Why isn’t there a phone number for American citizens in Afghanistan to call the State Department? 

Meanwhile Fatina says the situation there is “worsening day by day.” 

Despite her terror, she remains strong for her family. “These times are hard, but they will pass, and we will come back, hopefully.”

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