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They worked for America in Afghanistan. Now they are in hiding.

<i>Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>The evacuation airlift from Kabul has accelerated over the past 24 hours.
AFP via Getty Images
Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images
The evacuation airlift from Kabul has accelerated over the past 24 hours.

By Tim Lister, Clarissa Ward and Gianluca Mezzofiore, CNN

Fawad is one of hundreds and probably thousands of Afghans whose applications for visas to enter the US are somewhere in limbo. Now, unable to reach Kabul airport, he and his family are living in fear — too scared to venture outside.

Over the past day, CNN has communicated with Fawad and several other Afghans whose lives are now in the balance. They all have a long history of working with or for the US government or contractors. They all feel trapped and abandoned. CNN is not disclosing their identities for their safety.

Fawad has worked for American companies since 2003 and applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) in April 2020. He’s still waiting for an answer.

In a series of text messages from his home in Kabul, he told CNN: “Feeling the worst days of my life. All the day sitting home, night-time can’t sleep properly because (in) some places Taliban started door to door searching.”

He and his family have not been out of the house since the Taliban entered the capital over the weekend, he said.

Fawad sent photographs of his family to CNN. He has two young daughters.

“Many of my relatives and colleagues are now trying to escape the country by any means,” he said.

One of Fawad’s former employers — reached by CNN in Dubai — remembers him as a first-class worker and supported his application for a Special Immigrant Visa.

But ​Fawad says his most recent emails and messages to the US Embassy have gone unanswered.

“I have sent three, four emails reminding them to update me, but unfortunately there is not a timeframe for that and we don’t know how long it will take,” he said in a text message. Adding: “… there is not plenty of time to wait for.”

Besides being a former employee of US companies, Fawad is also a member of the Hazara Shia Muslim community, which was persecuted by the Taliban when the group was last in power.

Fawad’s former employer, who we are not naming ​out of concern for Fawad’s security, told CNN that he was receiving multiple pleas for help from Afghans he had worked with.

Bureaucratic nightmare

CNN also spoke with an Afghan ​who asked CNN to refer to him only as Shafi, for his protection. ​He had been a site supervisor for the US Army in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, from 2010 to 2013. He recalled that one night in 2013 he returned home to find a letter from the Taliban demanding he leave his job or face severe consequences.

Despite letters of support from senior US officers, his visa application was rejected by the US Embassy in May 2013. It said: “You were not actually employed by or on behalf of the US Government.”

Shafi recently applied again, with letters of endorsement from two retired US Army colonels and another senior officer. A fourth US officer wrote in support of his application that there had been two attempts on Shafi’s life and his father had been killed by the Taliban in 2018.

An email sent by the embassy to Shafi on Monday and seen by CNN asked him for his government ID. A former US Army officer had already written to the embassy that Shafi was not issued one.

Shafi is in hiding now in Kabul and feels trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare. He asked CNN: “What is wrong with my application? What more do they need me to provide?”

Another Afghan, Farhad, who lives in Herat, told CNN he had worked for nearly four years for an American company that provided vehicle maintenance and other services to the Afghan military.

He has now applied for an SIV, attaching an employment certificate from his former employer, which CNN has reviewed. He also sent a recommendation letter from a US citizen.

He received an automatic reply telling him the process would take a long time — about eight weeks alone for document verification. Based on the experience of friends, he expects the whole process will take more than a year.

In a series of messages, Farhad told CNN: “Everything is on hand based on US Embassy requirements, but they should take us out because there are too many people who recently applied for SIV. The process is too long, we are nervous because of the high [level] of threats against us.”

“If the Taliban know that I worked with the Americans, they will assassinate me,” he added.

Farhad said he is in hiding with his wife and two young children, with no prospect to flee the country.

“I could travel from Herat province, but it’s too risky. All flights from Kabul are suspended. I should wait until they respond to me, I don’t have any alternative right now.”

Farhad has another friend who sent his documents to the embassy four months ago, but he had only received a message saying his application was being processed.

“As you see the embassy has evacuated and no (one) is responding and giving clarification,” he said.

CNN has reached out to Farhad’s former employer for comment.

No safe corridor

While the evacuation airlift from Kabul has accelerated over the past 24 hours, the problem for Afghans desperate to leave is that the Taliban control access roads to the airport. There is no safe corridor for Afghans to reach it — even if their paperwork is in order.

Some Afghans did reach the airport during the chaos at the weekend and were allowed to board at least one US evacuation flight. On Sunday, some 640 Afghans were flown to Qatar on an overloaded C-17 Globemaster III, according to a report by Defense One​, a private news website that reports extensively on US military operations. The Pentagon said on Monday night that several flights left Kabul with several hundred more SIV applicants.

And the US plans to bring out thousands more.

US Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday: “Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can. There will be a mix, not just American citizens but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well.”

The Pentagon says it can airlift as many as 5,000 to 9,000 people a day from Kabul.

But given that ​tens of thousands of Afghans may seek refuge in the US under the SIV program, the resumption of commercial flights will be essential.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the US was “seeking to reestablish positive control [at the airport]” so that “commercial travel can also resume so that many of these Afghans, whose images we have seen whose images have been so searing ​will be able to reach safety.”

However, it was not clear how long the US military and officials will remain on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Price said Monday: “We are going to maintain a presence on the ground for as long as it is responsible and safe for us to do so.”

For Kabul residents Fawad and Shafi, the airport is tantalizingly close and yet beyond reach.

Fawad is still in a state of shock. “No-one could even think of it that Taliban would be able to come back to Kabul one day,” he said.

Now he sees them milling about in the street outside.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Asia/Pacific

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