Bay Area Afghan family spends five days trying to escape Kabul

Sultan With their bags checked and passports stamped, Sultan Mansoor and his family were ready to board a plane in Kabul back to the Bay Area after visiting his ailing mother.

Everything seemed normal, Mansoor recalls, as the family waited in the airport terminal. But suddenly their flight was canceled without explanation and what they hoped would be an uneventful return to Milpitas turned into chaos.

It was August 15 and the Taliban were taking control of the city after quickly taking control of provinces across Afghanistan and the Hamid Karzai International Airport began to close.

“They told me to come down, get your bags and go home,” Mansoor said in an interview at his home in Milpitas. They left the airport, along with thousands of other potential passengers and even employees.

MILPITAS, CA – SEPT. 2: Sultan Mansoor, of Milpitas, shows his departure from Afghanistan stamp on his passport while at his home in Milpitas, California on Thursday, September 2, 2021. Mansoor and his family were visiting Afghanistan when the Taliban took control of the country. (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group)

So began a traumatic ordeal when Mansoor and his wife Bibi Narges, along with their children Uzma and Edris, returned to the airport for three consecutive days in a desperate attempt to flee the country.

Every day they found themselves jostling among huge crowds trying to make their way through the airport gates to catch flights from Kabul amid the final withdrawal of US forces at the official end of the longest war in the United States.

At various times, Mansoor said he and his father were beaten by the Taliban, his brother was shot in the leg, his daughter was missing and the family spent 31 hours on the tarmac before finally leaving. in a military transport plane.

Raised in Kabul and one of 11 children, Mansoor, 30, had worked for four years in human relations for an American defense contractor while attending a university in Kabul and the following three years as a translator at the Ministry of Defense of the Afghan government.

During those years he witnessed a torrent of violence, including frequent suicide bombings by Taliban forces trying to kill American and Allied soldiers. He has been threatened several times by the Taliban for working with the US government.

“Sometimes relatives or neighbors told us that they (the Taliban) were in the area. Once they arrested me and covered their faces. They said, ‘Hey, stop working with them, or I’m going to kill you,’ ”he recalls.

” I was so scared. It was very dangerous for us. Not just me, but everyone who worked with the US military, ”he said. “Many of our friends, they were killed by them in their provinces, on their way home” from work.

In June 2017, Mansoor received a special immigrant visa after a year-long screening process and left Afghanistan with his wife and daughter Uzma, then 4, for the United States, where they settled in Fremont before moving to Milpitas. Their second child, Edris, 3, was born in the United States.

When Mansoor learned earlier this year that his mother was ill, he planned a family trip to visit her from early June to September 1.

He wanted to visit her as soon as possible as his health was deteriorating and at the time he believed the family would be back before any upheaval that might occur on September 11, when the US military was to finally withdraw from Afghanistan. .

After President Joe Biden extended the US withdrawal deadline to August 31, Mansoor rescheduled the return flight earlier, to August 15 – a day too late, as it turned out.

“We didn’t think Kabul and other cities would be occupied by the Taliban so soon,” he said. “We couldn’t have imagined, we couldn’t see this situation in my dreams.”

Mansoor and his family returned to the airport day after day, sometimes not even to the gates surrounding its entrance due to all the heckling.

Meanwhile, a family friend and one of Mansoor’s cousins ​​in the United States contacted the office of Representative Ro Khanna, who worked with the State Department to help bring the family home. . Mansoor said he had started receiving email instructions from US officials on which gate to approach, but conditions at the airport were constantly changing.

Mansoor’s brother accompanied him every day to carry and care for his two children. With so many people crowded near the doors, Mansoor said he felt “there was no room to breathe”.

As Taliban fighters tried to control anxious crowds, Mansoor said he fired warning shots into the air. A bullet fell and hit his brother in the leg, making a hole in his clothes and piercing his skin, he said. Her brother pushed Uzma to the ground, draping himself over her to protect her from the bullets.

“He actually saved my daughter’s life,” Mansoor said. “There was a lot of gunfire, it was very scary.”

His father accompanied them on one of the trips to the airport and was beaten by Taliban fighters with a stick and the butt of a rifle as the crowd rushed for the gates. Mansoor was hit in the face and legs with a stick, he added.

In all the confusion, Uzma was separated from the family, who found her around an hour later following a frantic search. “My wife and I were crying a lot,” he said.

On the third day, Mansoor said it took them around six hours to reach the gates through the masses of people gathered at the airport borders, but they were eventually able to get through and access the tarmac. Without any clear information on when they could get on the plane, the family sat there for about 31 hours, mostly under the blazing sun. Mansoor said US Army officers gave them food and bottled water.

On the night of August 19, the family was finally able to board a huge gray military transport plane with around 200 other people. All were seated on the metal floor of the plane for the flight to Islamabad, Pakistan.

Even after escaping from Kabul, they still could not fully breathe out. They spent the night at a Pakistani airport, then were transported to Turkey and next to Amsterdam, where they booked a commercial flight to New York and finally to San Francisco, where they arrived on August 23.

Coming home to the Bay Area “was an incredibly happy feeling,” Mansoor said, adding that he had not slept in five days. Thursday life was somewhat back to “normal” as Edris was happily playing with toy cars at home and Uzma was back at school.

But Mansoor remains worried about his family members he left behind in Kabul.

“Right now the Taliban are looking house to house,” Mansoor said. If they find out about his family and find out about his past work for the US government, he fears they may be injured or killed. He hopes Congress or the President can intervene in one way or another.

“It’s very dangerous for my parents there,” he said.

About Dwaine Pinson

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