She Escaped Before the Last U.S. Flight From Kabul—Her Sister Didn’t
The last U.S. flight took off from Kabul on Monday, taking with it the last sliver of hope for the reunion of two sisters—one who made it out in time, and the other who didn’t.
The last U.S. plane has departed Kabul, leaving in its wake a country ravaged by terror, bloodshed, and heartache. With evacuations at a standstill, the Taliban in full control of the country, and ISIS emerging from the shadows, two female Afghan journalists—sisters who both earned their spots on the Taliban’s kill lists—never imagined a reality where they would be torn apart, landing worlds away from each other.
The elder sister, who The Daily Beast will call Nadia, was able to secure a one-way ticket to the Netherlands through her connection with a British family last week. Begrudgingly, the 27-year-old left her mother and her younger sister, who we’ll refer to as Meena, behind in Kabul at her mother’s urging last week. Nadia now resides at a military base until her final destination is determined.
Meena told The Daily Beast she didn’t believe the U.S. would actually leave Afghanistan until the last plane took off on Monday. “I knew the United States was withdrawing its forces, but I believed it may have kept some of them behind to help Afghanistan's security,” she said. The young woman explained that she was writing in her diary when she first learned about the troops leaving. “It was about 11:15 pm when I heard the faint sound of bullets,” she said. Later, she’d realize the gunfire she was hearing was the Taliban’s celebration of the official withdrawal of the U.S. from the country. “I was very hopeful as long as foreign forces were at the airport,” she said. But now, with U.S. forces officially out of the country, that spark of hope is all but snuffed out.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Nadia was hearing from her younger sister about the Taliban's “happy firing” that kept her family up all night. “I've lost everything. It hurts. I feel incomplete. It hurts when I'm going to sleep,” Nadia told The Daily Beast. “I feel guilty. How could I do this? How could I leave my family and come here? I'm powerless. I'm not able to do anything.”
The reality of the U.S. exit, and what that means for evacuation efforts, have exasperated Nadia's guilt. “People are telling me to be patient…. I'm completely lost in thoughts and worries, and love for my family,” she said. “They care about me and won't let me know the bad things that are happening, even though I have received information about rockets, bombs, and blasts. My heart is shaking just thinking about my family.”
Back in Kabul, Meena shared with The Daily Beast several photos of the sisters together from more peaceful times. Referencing photos from birthday celebrations, she said, “[This was] when we had no grief and she was with me. I just miss her badly. I hope to live to see her again."
While the Afghan sisters cautiously hold on to the hope of seeing eachother again, Afghanistan war veterans who are assisting those left behind paint grim pictures of the days to come.
“The next 48 hours are going to be very telling for the short-term opportunity of our allies who are still trapped in Afghanistan will have to leave the country,” William Felder, one of the directors at Tarjoman.org, a relief organization helping with evacuations, told The Daily Beast. “With the conclusion of U.S. evacuation efforts at HKIA, we expect no short-term resumption of commercial air travel… Those trying to leave the country are shifting their efforts to crossing the border into neighboring countries.”
Felder explained that the Taliban, too, are shifting their focus to these predictable border crossings. “We are receiving a lot of anecdotal evidence that individual Taliban fighters and more extreme groups of fighters fighting under the Taliban banner are beginning to conduct unlawful executions and separating families,” Felder said. “We know for a fact that those people we are in touch with in Kabul witnessed house to house searches and have received messages threatening their safety by individuals associated with the Taliban. We are braced for what we expect to be a very dark and very sad few days for the people of Afghanistan and especially our friends and allies that remain unable to leave the country.”
Meena has been unable to leave her home in Kabul due to Taliban fighters surrounding the perimeter of her building, but considered escaping to Panjshir out of limited options and desperation.
“My brother called his friend who is on his way to Pakistan. The road is blocked and more than 10,000 people are left behind. Only people with Pakistani citizenship... are allowed to enter,” the younger sister said. “The only solution is to go by air, and the land route is more dangerous because I have heard that Afghans are captured on the way.”
Matt Zeller, an Afghanistan war veteran who founded No One Left Behind, which is also assisting in evacuations, echoed similar concerns. “No one is getting out... We have reports of Taliban executing people with English contacts on their phones at checkpoints outside of Kabul,” he told The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, the sisters have stayed in daily contact, bolstering each other’s spirits during the uncertainties of war. “I'm trying to stay strong. Maybe it's too late,” Meena told The Daily Beast. She then sent a series of audio messages capturing the sound of gunfire in the background. “I think the [next] war has begun,” she said.