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Foreign Policy: Those Left Behind in Afghanistan

By Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch, Amy Mackinnon

October 1, 2021

The text message came in just after 2:30 a.m. “[T]here is a major search operation going on in Kabul tonight. … If possible try to stay out of sight, and away from central areas.” The message instructed its recipients to hide their documents and computers and listed the districts of Kabul the Taliban were targeting that night for house-to-house searches.

For Ahmed (whose real name is being withheld for security reasons) and other Afghans who worked for the government, messages like these are a way to stay hidden, stay ahead of the Taliban, and most importantly, stay alive. The text groups, sent over encrypted messaging apps like Signal, have cropped up among Afghans and U.S. veterans remotely trying to help their former comrades evade massive sweeps by the Taliban and other militant groups searching for those who aided the failed U.S. war effort for two decades.

Also among those stranded are the families of U.S. service members who are Afghan citizens and eligible for SIVs. Foreign Policy spoke to one U.S. service member, a former Afghan interpreter who secured a visa to the United States and then joined the U.S. Army to go back and serve in Afghanistan under the American flag.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter on Sept. 10 to Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting details of how many U.S. service members have family members trapped in Afghanistan.

McCaul, representing Texas’s 10th district, wrote that the families of several Texans who serve in the military are still trapped in Afghanistan. “They have been working night and day to safely evacuate their family members. But their efforts so far have not been successful,” he wrote. “[W]hen they need us the most, the federal government has turned our backs on them. If we abandon the family members of our service men and women in Afghanistan, they will certainly be slaughtered by the Taliban.”

Nearly three weeks later, neither the Pentagon nor the State Department have responded to McCaul’s letter.

The U.S. service member who spoke to Foreign Policy said his family is running out of safe houses. Secure in the United States, he sometimes stays up until 2 a.m., either trying to find more U.S. government agencies to call about his family’s case or keeping in contact with his family to ensure they are safe.

“I do not know what to tell my family because they spend a lot of nights waiting for any news or help,” he said. “And then nothing happens.”

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