Trying—and Failing—to Save the Family of the Afghan Who Saved Me

In the center of March, I texted my buddy Tahir Luddin, an Afghan journalist who lives in the Washington space, after I noticed a video he had posted on Facebook of his teen-age son working on a treadmill. My textual content was banal, a fast check-in to see how he and his family members have been faring amid the isolation of the previous 12 months. “How is your family? How are you?” I wrote. “See the pictures of your children on FB. Your son is very tall!!!” Tahir didn’t reply. At the time, I didn’t fear and assumed that he would get again to me. Our communications have been sporadic, however our bond was uncommon.

Twelve years in the past, Tahir, an Afghan driver named Asad Mangal, and I have been kidnapped by the Taliban after one of their commanders invited me to an interview outdoors Kabul. Our captors moved us from home to accommodate and ultimately introduced us into the distant tribal areas of Pakistan, the place the Taliban loved a protected haven. Our guards advised Tahir how keen they have been to execute him and the many ways in which they’d mutilate his physique. They handled me much better and demanded that the Times, my employer at the time, pay hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in ransom and safe the launch of prisoners from Guantánamo. We have been held all collectively, in the identical room, and Tahir and I spent hours speaking, regretting the anguish that we have been inflicting our households.

After greater than seven months in captivity, Tahir and I escaped. As our guards slept, Tahir guided us to a close-by navy base. (Asad fled on his personal, a number of weeks later.) It was an finish to our ordeal that neither of us had dared to imagine was potential. I reunited with my spouse—we had acquired married simply two months earlier than I used to be kidnapped—in the United States. Fearing reprisals from the Taliban, Tahir and, later, Asad moved right here as properly. In the years since, Tahir and I each reworked our lives. I forswore struggle reporting and have become the proud father of two daughters. Tahir’s path was extra arduous. Settling in northern Virginia, he labored as an Uber driver, then began delivering packages for Amazon. He lived with different immigrant males in a succession of cramped residences, sending most of his earnings residence to his giant household, who remained in Kabul. In 2017, after turning into a U.S. citizen, Tahir introduced his 5 oldest kids to the U.S. to stay with him.

Tahir Luddin and David Rohde at the workplace of the New York Times, for which Rohde reported, after escaping the Taliban.Photograph by James Estrin / NYT / Redux

In April, I attempted calling Tahir however couldn’t attain him. Concerned, I despatched him a collection of textual content messages. Again, no reply. Alarmed, I despatched him an e-mail, and he responded straight away. “I am in kabul since March the 28th,” he wrote, in the fragmented English that I’d come to know properly throughout our months in captivity. “The taliban are just outside kabul. Thousands of afghans are leaving kabul everyday.” He stated he had utilized for visas that will allow the relaxation of his household in Afghanistan to hitch him in the U.S. I used to be relieved to listen to this. Days earlier, President Biden had introduced that each one U.S. troops would pull out of Afghanistan by September 11th. For years, Tahir had hoped for a peace deal in Afghanistan. Now he was focussed on safely getting his family members out of the nation. I assumed that Tahir, as an American citizen, would be capable to safe visas for his spouse and remaining kids, the youngest of whom is 4.

Around the identical time, one other Afghan buddy of mine, Waheed Wafa, who spent a decade as a reporter for the Times in Kabul, had come to the identical conclusion as Tahir about the prospects for his nation. Waheed had made repeated visits to the United States however at all times returned to Afghanistan, decided to remain in his homeland. In 2019, a gunman had fired on a automotive that was speculated to be taking Waheed to the airport, wounding the driver. Waheed was not in the car at the time and isn’t certain whether or not he was the one being focused. He helped to rescue the driver and take him to the hospital. In 2020, the Taliban carried out a wave of focused assassinations that killed more than a hundred Afghan civilian leaders, together with medical doctors, journalists, and human-rights advocates. In a brand new tactic, the Taliban had begun putting magnetic bombs beneath the vehicles of their victims—to terrorize the metropolis. “They are going to the soft targets,” Waheed advised me in a cellphone name.

In May and June, I contacted refugee-aid teams, nonprofit authorized organizations, and tutorial entities to see whether or not they might assist Tahir and Waheed. The replies I acquired have been heat however noncommittal. Becca Heller, the head of the International Refugee Assistance Project, advised me that she was shocked at the Biden Administration’s lack of superior planning. Senior White House and State Department officers didn’t seem to know the quantity of Afghan civilians who, like Tahir and Waheed, had backed the U.S. effort and could be in grave hazard if the Taliban regained energy. The U.S. had tried one of the largest efforts to rebuild a nation since the Second World War, funding the creation of faculties, well being clinics, and impartial media shops throughout the nation. According to the International Rescue Committee, over the previous twenty years three hundred thousand Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the American mission in the nation.

Tahir spent two months in Kabul ready for his spouse and youngsters to obtain visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy, after which, in mid-June, returned to the United States. He was pissed off and out of cash. In the wake of Biden’s announcement about the American withdrawal, hundreds of Afghans had utilized for visas, and Tahir’s purposes for his spouse and youngsters have been someplace in the queue. A COVID outbreak in the U.S. Embassy additional slowed the course of.

In mid-July, as the pullout of U.S. troops approached, Tahir and Waheed advised me that they’d each given up on the thought of American visas. They advised me that they’d welcome visas to Turkey or one other third nation, the place they’d be past the Taliban’s attain. I reached out to present and former authorities officers whom I had met throughout previous reporting. They advised me that precedence was being given to processing the purposes of twenty thousand Afghans who had labored as translators and different workers of the U.S. navy. Current and former navy officers assailed the tempo of that effort by the Administration as properly. Three months after Biden’s withdrawal announcement, solely about seven hundred of the twenty thousand navy translators had arrived in the United States. Advocates had pressed for the U.S. to undertake an effort akin to the Ford Administration’s evacuation of tens of hundreds of South Vietnamese—by air and by boat to Guam—earlier than the fall of Saigon, in 1975. Biden Administration officers listened politely however appeared to lack urgency. When I requested Administration personnel about the Guam possibility and Tahir’s case, I acquired caring replies however the identical message: there was nothing that may very well be performed for Tahir’s household in Kabul.

On August third, I made a decision to go public. During the Aspen Security Forum, which was held nearly this 12 months, I requested Zalmay Khalilzad, the senior U.S. diplomat overseeing peace negotiations with the Taliban, about Tahir’s case. “He is desperately trying to get his wife and children out of Kabul,” I said. “What do I say to this journalist? He saved my life. He’s a U.S. citizen. He has a right to bring his wife and children here.” Khalilzad stated that he, as an immigrant himself, understood Tahir’s scenario. “With regard to your journalist friend, I would urge him to get in touch,” he stated. “We will put him in touch with the right person at the embassy.” The reply raised my hopes. I obtained an e-mail deal with from the State Department for Khalilzad’s workplace. Days later, a staffer was in contact with Tahir however had little new info. At this level, his six-year-old’s petition for journey to the U.S. had been cleared, however the petitions for his different younger kids have been nonetheless being processed, greater than 4 months after they’d been submitted.

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