Producer, Educator & Writer
Originally appeared in KQED news.
Two explosions outside the international airport in Kabul on Thursday left dozens of people dead and injured, including members of the U.S. military and Afghan civilians. The attacks, which occurred at one of the gates to the airport and at a nearby hotel, came less than a day after the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens to get out of the area. ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, has said it carried out the attack, according to The Associated Press and Reuters. In an afternoon address, President Joe Biden vowed to “hunt down” the attackers and “make [them] pay.” Follow NPR’s ongoing coverage.
Mishkan Zahir Darbi, program manager of Fremont’s Afghan Coalition, told KQED on Thursday that the group had been bracing for the possibility of an attack.
“We knew that the behavior of this terrorism group is such that they will make certain to keep these individuals inside the country to torture essentially,” Darbi said. “It wasn’t a surprise, but it is devastating.”
Since Aug. 15, when Taliban soldiers took over Kabul, thousands of people have continued to make their way to the airport hoping to flee the country. On Aug. 16, some rushed the airport and were so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off, and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people were reported dead in that chaos, including two people shot by the U.S. military trying to control the crowds.
Several Bay Area lawmakers are responding to the attacks, calling them “horrific.”Sponsored
“Our urgent priority must be the safe and immediate evacuation of Americans and those who demonstrated allegiance to the U.S. during the war or are at risk if they remain in the country,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San José, said in a statement. “Today, we mourn the U.S. military men and women who lost their lives. Their bravery and sacrifices must not be forgotten.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) said in a statement that he is continuing to monitor the situation in Afghanistan.
“It’s critical that we do all we can to secure the area so we can prioritize the safe and swift rescue of U.S. citizens, diplomatic personnel, U.S. servicemembers, as well other individuals at imminent risk, such as journalists, women, civil servants and Afghan allies,” Swalwell said.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said in an interview with KQED Thursday there needs to be a review of U.S. evacuation operations.
“I think we could have started the evacuation earlier,” he said. “I do think when we have those oversight questions in Congress we should look not just at the last 20 days but at the last 20 years of went wrong in the war in Afghanistan.”
John Garamendi (D-Davis) urged Pres. Joe Biden to maintain the Aug. 31 withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“It is tragically obvious that the American soldiers are in harms way… so the sooner they’re out of there the better,” Garamendi said.
In the East Bay, home to one of the largest Afghan communities in the U.S., the Taliban takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15 was something many feared in their worst nightmares.
“I’m just in complete shock and complete despair. I can’t control my emotions,” Nahid Fattahi told KQED through tears, shortly after the Aug. 15 takeover. “My nightmare came true today with the collapse of the government.”
Fattahi said she feels let down, especially by the American government and by President Biden. “It was literally a slap on every Afghan’s face. It’s a very dark day for me — and millions of Afghans,” she said. “This is a dark day for anyone who believes in freedom and humanity.”
Fattahi, a human rights activist, said she’s been in disbelief since the collapse of Herat. Herat is Afghanistan’s third-largest city and her birthplace.
“I’m extremely emotional because, for Afghans — we foresaw this,” she added.’My concern for women in Afghanistan is the same as it would be here in the United States if women and girls lost their humanity — if they were being ripped out of their mother’s arms at 12 or 13 years old to marry terrorists.’Mizgon Zahir Darby, freelance writer and former publisher of an Afghan American magazine
As the Taliban tightened their grip on her hometown back in the mid-’90s, Fattahi says her parents made the agonizing choice to send her to Canada at the age of 14 to marry a man who promised to provide her a better life and an education.
Since coming to the U.S., she’s been outspoken about the dangers of the extremist group and the importance of making sure women’s rights are included when negotiating peace.
“We warned the American government about this,” she said through tears. “I and millions of Afghans around the world … we just feel betrayed, let down and hopeless.”
Fattahi started a Change.org petition over two years ago to ensure women’s rights were considered in discussions with the Taliban.
“The Taliban cannot be trusted,” she said. “Women will pay a huge price for this, and for generations to come.” But she also said the impact will be felt globally. “I think the world will eventually pay a huge price for this because we are not separate — the world is very much connected.”
Hayward-based Mizgon Zahir Darby, a freelance writer and former publisher of an Afghan American magazine, echoed Fattahi shortly after the Taliban takeover in saying that there’s a sense of hopelessness.
“Women and girls have lost their rights, but in addition, they have lost their humanity,” Darby said. “My concern for women in Afghanistan is the same as it would be here in the United States if women and girls lost their humanity — if they were being ripped out of their mother’s arms at 12 or 13 years old to marry terrorists.”
For Farhad Yousafzai, who came to Sacramento in 2014 after working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, he’s worried neighboring countries will help fund proxy armies, which could lead to even more death. He told KQED he’s disappointed and mad. “What was the point of all the death?” he asked, of the many years of instability and war in Afghanistan.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell — who represents parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties and one of the largest Afghan American populations in the Bay Area — said following the Taliban takeover, “right now, the best thing I believe we can do as leaders in the community is to help give comfort and support to families who are looking for answers over in Afghanistan.” He’s also been working to assist those with visa applications already in place. MORE RELATED STORIES‘There’s a Lot That’s Not Working Within the System’: Afghan Evacuees Struggle with Housing and Immigration HurdlesFor Afghan Artists in the Bay, It’s a Painful TimeBay Area Afghan Artists Step Up in Response to Crisis Facing Artists in Afghanistan
Swalwell said he spoke with the secretaries of state and defense on Aug. 15, and they had pledged to look into ways of streamlining applications. “Of course, we want to honor the interpreters who worked with us on the battlefield through the special immigration visa,” he added.
The New York Times reported that 18,000 Afghans have been caught “in bureaucratic limbo” after applying for special immigrant visas — available to those facing threats as a result of working for the U.S. government.
On Aug. 25, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, joined 28 senators in writing a letter urging the Biden administration to expedite efforts to evacuate Afghans at risk . Previously, Padilla said his office would work with the State Department to process special immigration visa requests “as expeditiously as possible,” in a statement released Aug. 16.
We’ve compiled some additional resources to support Afghans and Afghan Americans in the U.S. and abroad:
JFCS East Bay has already welcomed dozens of people from Afghanistan to begin new lives in the East Bay, and in an Aug. 20 update said they expected dozens more Afghans to arrive this week, noting that they often get very little notice before being called to meet arriving planes.
The organization has an Amazon wish list where items can be shipped to their Concord office and distributed to refugees directly.
“We are also especially in need of gift cards to low-cost grocery stores like FoodMaxx or Grocery Outlet or Target,” Ami Dodson, who coordinates volunteer services, wrote in an email to KQED. “We have actually been inundated with responses. This community is so compassionate and generous,” Dodson said.
Director of Refugee Services Fouzia Azizi thanked the thousands of Bay Area residents who have offered their help so far. “Each of these actions ensure that our new neighbors are welcomed with dignity and care,” Azizi wrote on the JFCS website. “We are overwhelmed by your heartfelt desire to help the new arrivals move from trauma to comfort.”
Those interested in donating furniture can reach out to her via email (email@example.com) with a photo of what they’d like to donate. Dodson said they do not have a pickup service available, so donations would need to be delivered to their storage unit in Walnut Creek. They are also unable to take queen- or king-size mattresses, sofas/couches, or other large or heavy items.
They are also requesting volunteers to sign up through this Google Form to assist case managers with airport pickups, signing up for social services and providing language support.
Financial donations can also be made here.
The City of Fremont, home to one of the largest Afghan communities in the country, has established a fund through the Human Services Department. The fund is specifically for direct assistance to Afghan refugees arriving in Fremont, Newark and Union City.
Donations can be made here.
The International Rescue Committee, which operates branches in Oakland as well as internationally, has launched a $10 million appeal to raise funds for the emergency response to ensure aid can still be provided within Afghanistan, as well as to continue to provide support and protection for internally displaced people in Kabul.
“Humanitarians like the IRC have remained in Afghanistan through crisis after crisis and have proven remarkably effective in delivering impartial and principled responses in challenging operating environments,” said Amanda Catanzano, IRC senior director for international programs policy and advocacy, in a press release on Aug. 15.
Donations can be made here.
A ‘Scholars at Risk‘ fund has been created by UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, in partnership with San José State’s Human Rights Institute and the UC Berkeley Afghan Student Association. The fund is specifically “to respond to the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the urgent need to help journalists, lawyers, and other academics—especially women—flee the country.”
Their goal is to raise $100,000 by August 27. If that number is reached, the UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Office has pledged to match it in an effort to enable emergency travel and placement in the Bay Area.
This Google form is an effort to put individuals who have immigration questions related to Afghanistan in contact with attorneys.
Some Bay Area individuals and organizations are encouraging people to call their congresspeople to provide emergency aid to support fleeing Afghan migrants. Reach out to your representative here.