‘We Truly Have Lost Everything’: A Journey Out of Kabul the Day It Fell

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Nadima Sahar, a authorities official, was determined to stay. But past she learned the palace staff, and possibly adjacent the president, had already fled.

For Nadima Sahar and thousands of others, fleeing Afghanistan meant abandoning the lone  location  they knew.
Credit...Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Sept. 10, 2021Updated 9:01 a.m. ET

ARLINGTON, Va. — Nadima Sahar, a 36-year-old authorities authoritative successful Kabul, was resigned astatine first. She would stay, nary substance however atrocious things got. She saw anticipation successful the advancement Afghanistan had made implicit the past 2 decades. Maybe, she thought, she could propulsion for an inclusive government, with much women and taste minorities.

But connected the time the metropolis fell to the Taliban, her friends and household members flooded her telephone with calls and substance messages, begging her to leave.

When 1 person told her that the statesmanlike palace unit had already fled, and that determination were rumors President Ashraf Ghani was gone, too, Ms. Sahar decided she had to get out. As a high-ranking authorities authoritative successful education, she said that she knew that the Taliban would astir apt termination oregon apprehension her.

“As soon arsenic I heard that, my bosom conscionable sunk,” Ms. Sahar said. “If the president had near the country, past that meant we genuinely were successful a atrocious situation. We genuinely person mislaid everything.”

Ms. Sahar’s 9-year-old girl and 7-year-old lad had near Kabul 3 days earlier with her sister, Sadaf Sultani, who was visiting from Britain.

“My sister was consenting to combat until the end,” Ms. Sultani said. “But I had to unit her to let maine to instrumentality her kids.”

Ms. Sahar fto them spell reasoning it would lone beryllium a fewer weeks earlier conditions successful Kabul calmed down, adjacent arsenic the Taliban precocious toward the metropolis aft seizing state aft province. On nights erstwhile the gunfire and explosions were particularly loud, the household would structure successful the surviving room, which had fewer windows.

For Ms. Sahar and thousands of others, fleeing Afghanistan meant abandoning the lone location they knew. Although galore were determined to escape successful the past days earlier the U.S. unit withdrawal, risking their lives to scope the airport, others resisted leaving, disquieted astir relatives and clinging to the lives they spent years building.

Ms. Sahar knew it was naïve to deliberation that the concern successful Kabul mightiness not go truthful bad. But the thought of leaving again terrified her. She had been done this before: When she was astir 5, she had fled to Pakistan during Afghanistan’s civilian war.

“I deliberation it was that crippling fearfulness of becoming a exile again, not knowing what the aboriginal holds for you and starting your beingness from scratch,” Ms. Sahar said, her hands wrapped astir a cupful of beverage successful a friend’s flat successful Virginia, wherever she has been staying since she fled. “I conjecture I conscionable didn’t privation to look that.”

By Aug. 15, the time the government collapsed, lone Ms. Sahar and a relative were inactive surviving successful the four-bedroom apartment.

Around 2:30 p.m., she grabbed a backpack and tossed successful her documents, wallet, laptop and scarf. She took 1 other acceptable of clothes: a agleam floral-print chapan, her favourite portion of clothing. As she packed, her hands couldn’t halt shaking.

The cousins fled connected ft aft they heard that the Taliban had invaded Kabul. They tried to instrumentality a taxi, but the streets were already crowded, and each operator told them it was intolerable to thrust done the mayhem. People were crying and shouting connected the phone, and immoderate had started to loot banks.

After moving for much than an hr and a half, they reached Hamid Karzai International Airport, wherever hundreds of radical were waiting inside. Families, authorities officials and affluent concern executives clambered to scope the tarmac, hopeless to find abstraction connected 1 of the fewer flights scheduled to permission that day.

One of Ms. Sahar’s friends booked her a summons for a formation to Istanbul, the past level acceptable to instrumentality off. As they tried to get onto the tarmac, connection dispersed that the Taliban had reached the gates outside. Ms. Sahar told her relative to permission immediately. If they were recovered together, Ms. Sahar said, the Taliban mightiness termination them both.

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Credit...Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Tensions began to rise. One antheral bushed an airdrome idiosyncratic who was turning radical distant astatine the gate. All of the flights were overbooked, the workers told the crowd, and determination was nary accidental that immoderate of them would depart.

Ms. Sahar started to suffer anticipation aft trying to determination guardant for much than 5 hours. But past Kabir, an airdrome worker, took her done an employee-only doorway and onto the tarmac. He said helium did not cognize her but felt a work to help.

“She was crying,” helium said. “She was alone, and cipher came to her.”

Kabir told 1 of his friends to enactment with Ms. Sahar portion helium tried to find a mode to leave. She attempted to committee her formation to Istanbul, but formation unit members said the level was already afloat and were turning radical away.

About an hr later, Kabir called. He told his person and Ms. Sahar that they had 5 minutes to get connected a level successful different conception of the tarmac. Its lights were disconnected erstwhile they reached it, Ms. Sahar said.

They climbed the stairs to the plane, and adjacent though Ms. Sahar did not person a ticket, the formation unit fto them some on. They were the past 2 radical to board.

About 20 minutes later, the formation took off. It was acold from full, with each different spot empty, she said. Later, a unit subordinate told Ms. Sahar that the level did not person support to fly, and that it had been chartered to evacuate the hose owner’s household and friends. She did not spot immoderate different level instrumentality disconnected that night.

On the flight, she said, feelings of guilt, daze and grief collided. But mostly, she felt numb.

Ms. Sahar did not cognize wherever they were going. About an hr in, she asked the idiosyncratic seated adjacent to her, who did not cognize either, but they soon learned that they were connected their mode to Ukraine.

Once they arrived, the passengers were detained for respective hours. Some of them had firearms and galore did not person passports oregon visas.

After she was released, Ms. Sahar contacted a fewer friends and booked a formation to Northern Virginia. She arrived astatine Dulles International Airport connected Aug. 17, conscionable earlier thousands of Afghan evacuees arrived successful the adjacent fewer weeks.

Since then, she has been staying successful a spare country successful her friend’s flat successful adjacent Arlington. The walls are mostly bare and the closet is astir empty, but for a fewer shirts and pairs of pants her friends bought her.

Security workers astatine her flat gathering successful Kabul, wherever respective authorities officials lived, person told her that the Taliban person travel 4 times. Most recently, 21 radical from the Red Unit, an elite force, showed up. The Taliban person besides visited her bureau 3 times, leaving messages with her colleagues saying they would springiness her amnesty if she returned and transferred powerfulness to a caller caput of the acquisition authorization she ran. But Ms. Sahar and galore others person grown skeptical, fixed the increasing reports of detentions, disappearances and executions astatine the hands of the Taliban.

“The spot of your connection is thing I nary longer judge in,” Ms. Sahar said.

Ms. Sahar, a U.S. imperishable resident, hopes to get a occupation successful Virginia. She came to America successful 2002, graduating from Roger Williams University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She worked successful Washington for a twelvemonth earlier returning to Afghanistan successful 2009.

She does not cognize erstwhile she volition beryllium capable to alert her children to the United States. For now, she is submitting occupation applications and calling her children each nighttime to work them a bedtime story.

Even though she fears retaliation, she hopes to instrumentality to Afghanistan. Staying successful America permanently, contempt its security, is not an option, she said.

“That’s similar giving up connected everything you judge and saying, ‘You cognize what, bash immoderate you privation to bash with that country,’” Ms. Sahar said. “I would similar to spell determination to lend successful immoderate capableness that I can, adjacent if it means being determination arsenic a dependable of dissent.”

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