When Afghanistan collapsed to the Taliban in August 2021, pregnant women ceased prenatal care – many because they could no longer afford it, many because they could not go out in public without risk of being killed, and many because under Taliban law, women are property and medical care is not seen as important. A young couple, pregnant for the first time and in hiding in a bombed-out basement without heat or electricity, decided to have their baby on their own, because if seen in public, they would be executed. When the woman’s water broke and labor commenced, a female Afghan OB doctor came hidden in a truck to assist. They had only the light of two cell phones and the temperature was below freezing…
Afghanistan in the 1970’s mirrored the styles and attitudes in the United States. Female lawmakers spoke out in Afghanistan’s Parliament; Journalists wrote freely of events around the country; Universities flourished with student life. Girls wore miniskirts. Tourists, enchanted by the beautiful scenery, gardens, bazaars, and cosmopolitan feel of Kabul, the capital, called it the “Paris of Central Asia.”
Present day Kabul looks nothing like the city of a half century ago. Estimated to have over 4.6 million residents prior to the fall of the Government to the Taliban this past August 2021, some estimate there are more than two hundred thousand people hiding in Kabul with relatives, friends, and in abandoned buildings. Taliban forces patrol the twenty-two districts and have checkpoints looking for journalists, teachers, and anyone who showed loyalty to the American Forces and the previous government. Once identified through facial recognition programs and biometrics, systems created and implemented by the United States, many are executed on the spot. Frequently the bodies are hung from cranes in public places. Previous men and women who served in the Afghan military are particularly at risk.
Essential emergency response programs such as fire, police, and emergency rescue cease to exist. Many diabetics can no longer afford insulin, or it poses too high a risk to try and buy it; many in renal failure can no longer afford dialysis or it poses too high a risk to go to a hospital; and many women ceased prenatal care when the country collapsed. Chronic medical conditions, left untreated, become acute over time.
The U Medical Corps, the dream of a writer/ex flight medic in the United States, and a Doctor of Internal Medicine in hiding in Afghanistan, emerged in September 2021 as an underground movement to connect Afghan patients in peril with in-country Afghan doctors and hospitals. It has grown to over 270 doctors in a variety of specialties and relationships with six hospitals.
In November 2021 several days after Thanksgiving, the U Medical Corps, supported by the Upperwood Foundation, received a request for assistance. Fair warning: the following content is disturbing…
A young couple, married barely a year, hides in the basement of a partially destroyed home. The windows have been blown out and the roof partially collapsed. At night, the temperatures drop into the thirties. The 28-year-old husband served with the Afghanistan National Army Special Forces, and his 26-year-old wife had worked as a journalist for one of the television stations. Afraid to be seen in public, the young couple never leave the basement in daylight, and rely on food and supplies provided by friends. A cell phone solar charger keeps their communication link intact.
The young wife, pregnant for the first time, ceased her prenatal care at six months because she could no longer see her obstetrics doctor. For several weeks, friends brought her prenatal vitamins, but they became hard to find due to shortages and stopped all together mid-September. In October, two of the husband’s family members disappeared, and recent reports of female journalists and activists killed by the Taliban further cemented the decision of the young couple to remain in the basement and deliver the baby themselves.
The husband researched delivery methods on the internet for several days. He prepared with blankets from friends and medical supplies stolen from a local pharmacy. When his wife’s water broke and she started contractions, he felt ready.
Eighteen hours later, at 12:30am Kabul time, the husband called a friend to say the baby wasn’t coming, and he didn’t know what to do. The friend told them to go to the local government hospital, but the husband said if they encountered the Taliban, biometric scanning would reveal his identity and his wife’s face was easily recognizable from television. They would be killed. The friend called another friend who called another who called another. The fourth person into the link said he knew of an organization who might know someone who could help. Eventually, the sixth person in the chain reached the U Medical Corps.
Within an hour of the husband reaching out, a primary physician in Kabul called the husband and referred a female OB/GYN who followed up with both husband and wife. Afraid to go out in the dark, the U Medical Corps arranged for transport of the female doctor in a truck delivering supplies to a nearby community. Hiding under a metal frame obscured by hundreds of pounds of firewood, the female OB/GYN made it through three Taliban checkpoints undetected. Early evening in the States, the U Medical Corps also had an OB/GYN on standby in the U.S. Midwest, should the Afghan OB/GYN have to cease communication for security purposes.
Arriving at the partially destroyed home, an exchange of code words, first via text, then via phone, led the doctor to the young couple in hiding. The two doctors, one in Afghanistan and one in the United States discussed the delivery conditions and the mother’s status via an encrypted phone app. Without electricity, flashlights from two cell phones provided the only light.
When the baby finally came several hours later, all the husband could convey through the screams was, “I can see my wife’s breath, I can see my own breath, but I cannot see my baby’s breath. I cannot see my baby’s breath.”
Despite the best efforts of the local OB/GYN and supportive input from the American physician, resuscitation was not effective. The baby was set aside on the hardened ground as the Doctor talked the father and mother through the delivery of her placenta.
Shortly before the sun came up in Kabul, the young parents and doctor buried the baby just outside the house under a pile of rocks. They named him Abdullah Yusuf.
The female Afghan doctor instructed the mother to wrap her milk laden breasts tightly with a cloth and to place cool compresses on them. She also said to take Ibuprofen. The female Afghan OB Doctor, transported from the location back in a food truck, wore a disguise and took photographs of a medicine in a local pharmacy known as Bromocryptine.
The U Medical Corps arranged for medicine to be delivered to the basement entrance within hours. One will ease the inflammation, one will dry up the mother’s milk, but nothing will ease the pain.
The husband’s last communication was “Tonight she is near to me. She cries a lot.”
“Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a baby, a child or a mother, and access to a hospital or health facility is beyond the reach of most. The country has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and thousands of Afghan women die every year from pregnancy-related causes, a majority of which can be easily preventable.” (UNICEF)
A prominent U.S. Board certified OB/GYN Physician with over twenty-five years’ experience delivering babies and Department Chair at her hospital offered up the following, “The already concerning maternal and perinatal morbidity & mortality in Afghanistan is now escalating rapidly with no known data points. It’s primitive. This is due to pregnant mothers no longer seeking prenatal care because of fear of the Taliban repercussions but also the lack of physicians & midwives to care for them in a clean safe hospital with necessary supplies. This is causing parents to choose home births due to the dire consequences of seeking obstetrical care. Babies and mothers are dying needlessly. The emotional impact from this will take a severe toll on these mothers and their families. I beg the World Health Organization to address this women’s health issue immediately to the Taliban. Afghanis MUST be free to not only seek care without fear but have adequate medical care available- especially emergency care.”
In December 2021, the U Medical Corps, supported solely by the Upperwood Foundation, instituted the “Safe Delivery Program” providing pre-natal care and exams, safe deliveries in a hospital setting, and postpartum care – all with no questions asked, no identification required, and no charge to the patient. To date, over three hundred babies have been born safely under the auspices of this program. ∎
“The Taliban had separated them for questioning and made my wife stand while having contractions. They laughed at her whenever she tried to sit and yanked her to her feet. They beat my brother-in-law repeatedly with a cable whenever he tried to interfere. Finally, when it appeared my babies where ready to fall out they let my wife go to a clinic, a horrible place, to deliver. When they find out we don’t have any money, they sent my wife and babies home.” Thirty hours later, the premature twins were barely breathing. The mother, found by a neighbor, passed in and out of unconsciousness. The brother could no longer move due to his injuries. The U Medical Corps, supported by the Upperwood Foundation, crafted a plan for a food delivery truck to come to Samim’s wife’s house and pick her, the twins, and the brother up and transport them to the hospital. It was risky and had to be done under the eyes of watching Taliban. It required a distraction at the checkpoint and several men in the truck to carry to adult patients and the twins.
Christmas in the States is a time for family. We have a great routine that starts the day after Thanksgiving when we bring out our Christmas decorations. We have bins and bins that are marked Christmas #1 or Christmas #2 and then further labels detailing what’s inside. Our bins are a mish mash of colors and shapes because each year we seem to “acquire” more decorations which are now stored in a closet under the steps and in the garage because we need additional room. Christmas #1 are outside decorations and inside decorations, including Advent calendar houses for the kids to hold daily chocolates, and Christmas # 2 are more tree related things and tend to take up more space because of bubble wrap and boxes to protect fragile ornaments. We have a routine; Christmas # 1 decorations are completed by the end of weekend after Thanksgiving, and Christmas # 2 decorations are completed by the end of the first week in December.
This past Christmas was a little different. We had COVID and Afghanistan in our lives, and things were… well… focused in another direction. The U Medical Corps had launched its “Safe Delivery” program a month earlier. Supported by the Upperwood Foundation, the “Safe Delivery” program provides prenatal care and exams, safe deliveries, and post-partum care to mothers free of charge. With Afghanistan having one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world even before the Taliban took over, the Upperwood Foundation’s program is critical for pregnant women and facilitates more than thirty deliveries a week in a superb maternity hospital that rivals Western facilities.
This is the story of twins who came into the orbit of the U Medical Corps on December 20, 2021. The inquiry came from a US Army Captain in Virginia who said he had his Afghan interpreter, Samim, with him at his home. Samim’s wife, in Afghanistan, was pregnant and had problems walking because of pain. Like many women in Afghanistan, she had ceased prenatal care when the country collapsed August 15, 2021 and had not seen a doctor in months. Her husband, having worked with the American forces for more than a decade, was wanted by the Taliban.
“My wife and I went to the gates together in August hoping to get on a plane and get out of the country. Our US advisors called us several times over several days, and we went each time but could not get close to the gates. The fourth time I told my wife to stay home, and I would check it out to see if it was the same conditions. The weather was hot, no water, and chaos. She was around five months pregnant, and I didn’t want her to risk another day for nothing. So, I went to see if the crowds were any lighter. There was gunfire constantly, and people falling and running and pushing. It was insane. At one point I managed to get near the front, I explained to the US Marine that my wife was pregnant and could he hold a spot for both of us. He reached out and pulled me in. He promised me we would get my wife out. Three days later I was forced to leave. They would not let me exit the airport. They would not send someone for her. We said our good-byes over the phone.”
Samim, in Virginia, advised the U Medical Corps that his wife, in Afghanistan, needed to see a doctor for her pregnancy, but she had no money and was a pregnant woman without a husband - which is the equivalent of a death sentence under the Taliban. Her brother could act as her escort, or Mahram, but if questioned it could be problematic. The U Medical Corps, with support from the Upperwood Foundation, arranged for Samim’s wife to enter the “Safe Delivery” program and be seen for an intake exam at a maternity hospital the next day in Afghanistan. The appointment went well and to everyone’s surprise two heartbeats were heard – twins - and the OB/GYN said she should come back in 48 hours for another exam. That was the plan… but things don’t always go as planned.
It was 11:00 at night on December 22nd in Afghanistan when Samim’s wife’s water broke. Emblematic of the craziness, the wife, in Afghanistan, called her husband in Virginia, who called the U Medical Corps in New Jersey, who called the doctor in Afghanistan. The hospital had a team waiting because twins can be a challenging delivery. Samim expressed great concern, “It’s late. Taliban will stop my wife and her brother for sure. They will want to know where I am. Even if she says I am dead, they will try and look me up in biometrics.”
It was a twenty-minute drive across districts in Kabul that time of night to get Samim’s wife to the maternity hospital partnering with the U Medical Corps. Samim’s wife and her brother didn’t make it five before stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. Four men, with AK 47’s approached the car and ordered them out of the car. Samim’s brother-in-law protested and said his sister was in labor, and they needed to get to the hospital. The Taliban made him step out the car as he continued to protest and then beat him with rifle butts. Two other Taliban dragged Samim’s wife from the car and threw her to the ground.
“I didn’t know what happened to my wife. I was expecting a phone call when she got to the hospital, but I knew better than to call her, so I waited…. A little after 7:30am Afghanistan time, my brother-in-law finally called. He said the Taliban had separated them for questioning and made my wife stand while having contractions. They laughed at her whenever she tried to sit and yanked her to her feet. They beat my brother law repeatedly with a cable whenever he tried to interfere. Finally, when it appeared my babies where ready to fall out they let my wife go to a clinic, a horrible place, to deliver. When they find out we don’t have any money, they sent my wife and babies home.”
We immediately involved an OB/GYN doctor from the maternity hospital in Afghanistan to take charge of the situation. He called and asked Samim’s wife what the APGAR scores were, a scoring system at birth, and she didn’t know. It was suggested they come immediately to the maternity hospital recommended by the U Medical Corps because twins are usually problematic, come early, and require additional support. Samim’s wife explained she hurt too much to move, and her brother was unable to stand from the beating he had received. She asked if she could wait a day or two.
Christmas Eve in the States is a time of tradition. A family dinner is served, and many homes hold an open house for friends and family to visit. Depending on one’s beliefs and religion, cookies and milk are left out for Santa, maybe a carrot for the reindeer, and families read “The Night Before Christmas” to younger ones. It is a time of joyous anticipation and excitement when, “… the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
Christmas Eve came at us with a sense of dread regarding the twins. They had not eaten in the thirty plus hours since their birth, and Samim’s wife had developed a fever and explained she had torn during delivery and did not receive stitches. The U Medical Corps, with support of the Upperwood Foundation, had a phone conference with an OB/GYN at the maternity hospital in country and with an OB GYN in the States. Samim expressed he didn’t like how his wife was sounding, and she said the newborns weren’t moving much. It was agreed she would go at first light to the maternity hospital – around 11:00pm EST in the States, December 24, 2021.
A little after midnight, now the early hours of Christmas Day, Samim’s wife and the twins still had not left for the hospital, her brother could no longer walk, and a neighbor who came to check on the family said a new Taliban checkpoint had been set up two hundred meters from the house. With the brother unable to walk, Samim’s wife was an unaccompanied female, and could not travel. At 1:00am on Christmas Day, while young children in the United States were “…nestled all snug in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads” the U Medical Corps crafted a plan for a food delivery truck to come to Samim’s wife’s house and pick her, the twins, and the brother up and transport them to the hospital. It was risky and had to be done under the eyes of watching Taliban. It required a distraction at the checkpoint and several men in the truck to carry to adult patients and the twins. At 2:55am on Christmas Day, the food truck notified us all patients had been picked up and were en route to the hospital. The twins were unresponsive, barely breathing, and the mother passed in and out of unconsciousness. They arrived an hour later.
A little before sunrise Christmas Day in the US, the Medical Director of the hospital texted, “For your confirmation, both babies admitted in NICU for treatment of jaundice, low weight, birth asphyxia, malnutrition, etc. Both are very critical and on ventilators. Also, the mother has been checked by OB and GYN specialist. She has vaginal discharge, a high fever, high blood pressure due to postpartum eclampsia, and bordering on sepsis. She will also receive reconstructive treatment for a tear in her perineum during birthing process. We have sent the brother to a nearby medical complex for treatment of his injuries.”
An hour later, as our children were waking to Christmas morning and coffee was making the gurgling sound in our Cuisinart, the Medical Director sent this text, “Greetings on your Christmas Day sir. First, I have to say thank you and U Medical Corps for doing a great job to connect us with premature twins. Surely you people have done a great job. You save the life of these twins. If they had not come to the hospital, we would have lost them tonight. Thank you for loving Afghan people and your caring. As you know, most births of single babies happen at 39-40 weeks. But the average length of a twin pregnancy is 34-37 weeks. As per information, mother made her delivery at 35 weeks at a substandard hospital in Kabul, and after delivery discharged without proper postpartum care and neonatal care. The twins are premature and low birth weight with each weighing less than five pounds. When we received them last night, it was close to the end. Again, thanks to U Medical Corps. You worked hard to save their lives and get them to a hospital on time. Now they are in a NICU and receiving what will hopefully be lifesaving treatment.”
Twenty-four days later, Samim’s twins were released from the hospital. His brother, wearing a cast on one leg, and a cast on one arm, accompanied his sister. They remain trapped in Afghanistan. Samim, in Virginia, hopes to see them again someday. ∎
It is estimated 285,000 Afghans are in hiding. Without the ability to work they have no food, no electricity, and hope outside help will sustain the and eventually rescue them before the Taliban kills them. The U Supply Corps funded by the Upperwood foundation receives request for help twenty-four hours a day. This is one request: “I Esmatullah, son of Nasrallah, and my family of which two are legal permanent residents of the United States, are in a hiding place and the Taliban Intelligence are looking for us. We are in a bad security and financial situation. We are in a place where no one knows, we face lack of food, no heat or electricity, and we sleep in temperatures near freezing at night. Please pay serious attention to save our lives……”
The summer of 2021 was a time of caution in Afghanistan. The Americans had announced their imminent departure; many feared the Taliban, but none predicted the country’s collapsed on August 15, 2021 with the clandestine departure of President Ghani in several helicopters full of cars and $167 million in cash. The Afghan military forces ceased to exist in a matter of hours as loyalties shifted – some joining the Taliban – others abandoning their two-decade careers as military officers hoping to hide in plain sight in the sudden all civilian population. Many Afghan military left their posts and discarded their uniforms in the trash knowing they would marked for death.
Esmatuallah served with the American forces for the better part of a decade first as an interpreter for a security company funded by the U.S Department of State and then as a driver and interpreter for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. His wife, Frishta, was a teacher for a vocational and technical institute for Afghan women. Esmatullah and his wife were raising his nephew because his brother and wife had been killed by a roadside bomb several years prior. In late July of 2021, Frishta’s parents, legal permanent residents of the United States and living in California, came to Kabul, Afghanistan to spend a few weeks with their daughter, her husband, and their grandson. It was supposed to be a normal summer vacation with three generations of family.
“I told my in-laws they should consider cutting their vacation short and return to the United States when the Taliban took control of Herat and Mazar e Sharif, but they felt confident Kabul would hold, and we would all be safe.”
Within 48 hours of the Taliban occupation of the American Embassy, the Taliban, armed with personnel records and home addresses went looking for all employees of the Embassy because they had assisted Americans. With fifteen minutes warning from a friend who had joined the Taliban but did not wish to see his friend die, Esmatullah, his wife, nephew and in-laws fled their home on foot and watched from a distance as the Taliban entered their home, shot it up with automatic weapons, lit it on fire, and stole their two cars. The Taliban then left two guards in a pickup in front of the house waiting for Esmatullah and his family to return.
“I had been threatened with death several times during my career because of who I worked for, and I was cautious because of my brother and sister in law’s death, but I never thought I would see Taliban in my home destroying and burning our only possessions. We were lucky to have left with our passports, and my in laws had their green cards and American visas as back up.”
Esmatullah and family spent the next three months moving from house to house living off the generosity of friends and distant family members until there simply wasn’t anywhere else to go. None of them could work for fear of being found out or turned in. With winter coming, they found a basement shelter under a bombed-out house that looked abandoned. They gathered what they could from other destroyed and vacant homes and tried to warm the basement room with dirt floor. They lined the stone and earth walls with blankets and rugs. Without heat and a constant food source, Esmatullah weaponized the only communication tool left to him – a cell phone with a solar charger.
On November 26, 2021 the following message was received by the U Supply Corps, a project supported by the Upperwood Foundation which supplies food, wood, winter clothing, blankets, and medicine to Afghans in peril, “I Esmatullah, son of Nasrallah, and my family of which two are legal permanent residents of the United States, are in a hiding place and the Taliban Intelligence are looking for us. We are in a bad security and financial situation. We are in a place where no one knows, we face lack of food, no heat or electricity, and we sleep in temperatures near freezing at night. Please pay serious attention to save our lives. Please, thank you.”
Esmatullah sent photographs of their hiding place being careful not to reveal any external structures hence they serve as a landmark. Despite suggestions to move again, the family said this was the most secure they had been in months and their main concerns were food, heat, and winter clothing. From 6,600 hundred miles away, the Upperwood Foundation worked with a logistics company to install a charri, a wood burning stove, in the basement dwelling with a custom 24 linear feet of venting pipe to prevent carbon monoxide from building up. Solar powered lights, four months of wood, heavy blankets, winter coats and clothing, sleeping pads with reflective liners, and two months of food were delivered by a logistics company funded by the Upperwood Foundation during two consecutive nights with little on no moon to protect their location.
To this day, the family remains in hiding, with heat and food supplied every few weeks by the Upperwood Foundation. It is estimated more than 285,000 are in hiding hoping for evacuation before being found by the Taliban. ∎
A week after President Ghani fled Afghanistan on August 15, 2021 with cars and $167 million in cash and the immediate, subsequent collapse, Lieutenant Shurali, his wife, and two children, waited for hourly calls from American Advisors as to the best time to come to the gates of HKIA airport for evacuation. When the frantic call came, the US voice said, “Get here any way you can and fast.” LT Shurali and family found themselves thrust into a surging crowd of over five thousand people by an airport gate with Taliban firing automatic weapons sporadically into the crowd. Their infant daughter taken by a stranger, Shurali and his wife split up hoping to find their daughter. It was the last time LT Shurani saw his wife…
Born into a poor family in a rural region of Afghanistan, Obaidullah Shurali’s father taught primary school and insisted his son complete high school. Upon graduation, Obaidullah joined the Afghan National Army (ANA) and earned the rank of Sergeant in 2011. Shurali’s first duty station as a leader in the ANA was at the Kabul Airport. His ANA unit assignment was near the Afghan Air Force Academy where he watched Afghan pilots perform training, orientation, and maintenance on their aircraft. He was inspired by watching the airmen and soon developed a love of planes. After a year watching the pilots train at the airport, the Army deployed him to Kandahar, “This was a very dangerous place as many consider this area as home to the Taliban,” says Shurali, “I feel lucky because I received orders for Officer Candidate School (OCS) three months after I arrived at Kandahar. OCS was far away from that dangerous province.”
During OCS, he stood out among his peers and excelled in areas concerning leadership, tactics, and discipline. Shurali earned his gold 2nd Lieutenant bar at the completion of OCS. He was handpicked to begin flight training in the United Arab Emirates to fly planes for his country.
The first time away from his country, it was a challenge to be immersed in a foreign culture and away from his family, but he loved flying and took every opportunity to increase his hours in any aircraft available. Upon returning to Afghanistan with a new swagger of confidence, the Afghan Air Force selected him to attend fighter pilot training in the United States.“I arrived in the U.S. in March 2016 and attended the Defensive Language School (DLI) at Lackland Air Force Base outside San Antonio, Texas,” says Shurali. “They gave us nine months to learn the English language before sending us to the Columbus Air Force base to start flight school. I learned aerobatic maneuvers in a T-6. From there, we went to Moody Air Force Base to fly A-29 close air support attack aircraft. It was an exciting time in my life and a dream come true.”
Shurali returned to Afghanistan in June 2018. Anxious to flex his wings and fly his A-29 in combat for the first time, he was cleared to drop two MK81 250lb bombs on a known Taliban drug manufacturing center in Ghazni Province. “I was so proud. I couldn’t wait to tell my family,” says Shurali, “My excitement ended fast. Once they learned who dropped those bombs, the Taliban threatened to kill everyone in my family. For the next three years, everyone I loved had to change homes and cities every three to four months. It was a constant struggle to stay ahead of the Taliban scouts and their information networks. It was hard on everyone. I worried when I was in the air. I worried when I was on the ground.”
Stationed at the Kandahar Airfield in Mazar e Sharif in August 2021, and with more than six hundred hours of combat time accumulated in his A-29, Shurali was home on leave visiting his wife and children when he heard the Afghan President fled the country on August 15, 2021, “I told my wife to give me the ATM card to withdraw as much money as we could. I knew what troubles were on the way and we needed to purchase necessities,” recalls Shurali. “On the way to the Kabul City Center, I noticed stores closing and people running in the streets. Cars fled from the city in chaos. I asked a man what happened, and he said the government had collapsed. Taliban were coming. I raced home. I found my wife in hysterics because she knew what the Taliban would do to all of us. I called my advisor in the United States. He told me to stay in my home and help would be coming.”
“We stayed in hiding for several days while the Taliban ransacked and tightened its grip on the city. I called my U.S. advisor every day for guidance. He must have been out of options because he finally told us to try and get to the East Gate at the Kabul Airport. He said our names would be on a list with the gate guards. We encountered over 5,000 people fighting to get in the gates. We saw Taliban everywhere firing their guns at people and in the air. It was chaos. Bodies in the streets. At one point a stranger offered to hold our five-month-old daughter because we were having a hard time carrying everything. He said he’d help carry her while I carried our two-year-old. He disappeared into the crowd with my daughter.”
For hours, Lieutenant Shurali and his wife searched in vain for the man carrying their daughter. The danger and chaos only increased, and finally they decided they could double their chances of finding her if they split up and communicated by cell phone. Shurali held firm to his son as he moved through the crowd and texted his wife every few minutes. The Taliban sought out anyone from the Afghan military and government, and there was great danger in being recognized. Random gun fire pushed the crowds of thousands in different directions. “In one of the surges, my son and I got forced inside the gates, and we found our daughter. I called my wife and said to come meet us at the gate. There was yelling and gunfire and I could barely hear her, but I told her we were just on the other side. She cried and said she could not get through the crowds.”
“For four days we tried, and each day the violent mobs forced my wife back. Each day the Taliban closed in further. She was a woman traveling alone and unable to find a safe route to the airport. If caught and recognized, she would be raped, tortured, then killed. All I could hear was the sound of constant gunfire in the city. My heart sank every time I heard a gun go off because I thought they’d found my wife. On the fifth day, all my electronic devices ran out of battery. The last time I spoke to my wife, with both of us on Afghan soil, she told me to get on the plane and take our children to safety in the United States. Maybe someday she could get there too. I had to make the hardest choice a husband and father will ever make - sacrifice my wife to save our children.”
Lieutenant Durali was evacuated with his two children to the United Arab Emirates on August 24, 2021 and from there to a refugee camp on a military base in the United States a month later. In late fall, he was relocated to Arizona where he is raising his two children as a single father hopeful he can someday be reunited with his wife. The Underwood Foundation assists with clothing, food, and childcare costs which allows Obaidullah Shurali to enter the U Cadet Program and move forward with a career in commercial aviation. ∎
As the Taliban entered the city of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the country in complete collapse, Afghan pilots were instructed by US Advisors to get in their aircraft and fly to other countries so their planes and helicopters did not fall into the hands of the Taliban. This meant leaving their wives, children, and families behind. LTC Nabi, an A 29 pilot, commanded his squadron to Uzbekistan. While looking for a place to land, Uzbek pilots in Russian MiG’s intercepted them. LTC Nabi’s plane shuddered and exploded. Years of training in the US and sheer instinct prompted him to pull the ejection handle…
In 2010, the Afghan Air Force recalled young officers to active duty due to a shortage of pilots. One of those was Mohammad Nabi, a language teacher in a local school and an Afghan Air Force Lieutenant. Upon resigning his teacher position and joining the pilot training program, Mohammad Nabi was sent to the United States in 2011 to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
"My father passed away in Afghanistan while I was at DLI Lackland AFB, but I was unable to attend the funeral due to the time constraints of the training schedules,” says Nabi. “We were a family of eleven. My father and I were the sole income earners to support our entire family. Since he passed away, all the responsibility now fell on my shoulders. It was very difficult to be in a foreign country [USA]; away from my family, studying, and being moved from base to base, but I knew I had to serve my homeland and support our U.S. allies, so I stayed focused and earned my wings in early 2013.”
Nabi returned to Afghanistan flying C-208’s and after a year, the U.S. advisors recommended he return to the United States for A-29 training so he could better support friendly forces during ground operations. In 2014, Nabi commenced training in the States with the A-29 Super Tucano. In 2016, he returned to Afghanistan and provided ground support in the province where he lived; which had become unstable during his absence.
“Shortly after my return,” says Nabi. “My family and I received death threats, and I had to move them to Mazar-e-Sharif which was safer, but I had to split them in two groups and still provide for all of their expenses as they were all young and students. It was a very hard time.”
In 2016, U.S. advisors recommended Nabi for the Instructor Pilot course, and he went to the United States for a third time for training. Away from his family for more than a year, Nabi returned to Afghanistan in 2017 and commenced night and day operations and also taught young future pilots. During this time, now Lieutenant Colonel Nabi, was shot down on a combat mission and managed to make his way back to friendly lines.
"Every minute of every day was consumed with protecting Afghan and Allied forces on the ground,” says Nabi. “We were workhorses. The heavy surge of missions gave me little time for rest, and we weren’t even able to recognize our most sacred religious holidays.”
Muslims from all over the world would celebrate Ramadan in unison, except Nabi and his pilots. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam but Nabi and his team weren’t afforded a moment to reflect and worship in peace.
On the morning of August 15, 2021 Nabi’s squadron was in the team room waiting for the daily brief when chaos erupted in the city. His squadron learned ground troops were abandoning established positions; some on their own, some ordered by their chain of command. Nabi called his Commander and proposed several missions to protect Kabul city from the Taliban. While waiting for clearance to scramble aircraft and defend the city, some of the pilot’s cell phones stopped working, and Nabi had to borrow a phone to reach out to his U.S. advisors.
“They told me it would be best to get as many planes out as possible and fly to the UAE,” says Nabi. “While assembling our aircraft, our Aghan Air Force Commander called everyone to the ramp and said Kabul had fallen. He told us to gather as many planes and pilots as we could then fly our planes to Uzbekistan. All of us had to abandon our families. There wasn’t a chance to arrange for their safety or even to say good-bye. I left my wife and children knowing the Taliban would kill the families of Afghan pilots who fought alongside and supported the United States. Pilots and pilot families are at the top of the Taliban’s most wanted lists. I sacrificed, once again, for my country and for our allies.”
“We took off from Kabul in a three-ship formation to Uzbekistan. Upon arriving at Termez, the tower told us we could not land. When I suggested Qarshi airport as an alternative, the tower would not respond to my calls. When we arrived at Qarshi, all the runway lights were off. I did a low approach and determined it was impossible to land in the dark. I told my two wingmen we were returning to Termez. As we made our turn, Uzbekistan MiG 29’s fighter jets intercepted us. They circled around behind us, and after about two minutes I felt my plane shudder and a flash of light erupted in my cockpit. The MiG had rammed my plane and I began spiraling towards the ground. I pulled the ejection handle, separated from my plane, and launched into the darkness. When my feet hit the ground, the Uzbekistan Police were already waiting for me. I knew I was seriously injured. I could barely stand and my left eye seared. They searched me and took me to a hospital for treatment.”
After a week in the hospital, Uzbekistan Police loaded Nabi and another pilot (who was also forced down) into the trunk of a Russian military style Jeep and moved them to a humanitarian camp. During this time, the Police kept possession of their phones and wallets. On the night of September 12th, LTC Nabi reunited with American forces where they transferred him to a hospital in the United Arab Emirates. Doctors x-rayed his back and discovered thoracic and lumbar fractures. In addition, LTC Nabi could not see out of his left eye because of the explosion in his cockpit.
A month later, October 2021, LTC Nabi arrived in the United States and was placed in a refugee camp on a military base along with 15,000 other Afghan refugees. A representative from the Upperwood Foundation facilitated off based specialized treatment for Nabi with a neurosurgeon and a retinal surgeon. Slowly his back healed; the brace removed, and he started physical therapy. Consultation with several eye surgeons resulted in vision returning to his left eye. In January 2022, the Upperwood Foundation arranged for LTC Nabi to meet with an FAA certified medical examiner to discuss a future in commercial aviation in the United States. On February 5, 2022, one hundred and seventy-four days after the fall of Kabul, the Upperwood Foundation picked up LTC Nabi from the refugee camp and transported him to a Residence Inn by Marriott. The LTC has only the uniform he was wearing on August 15th, a set of clothes given to him in the UAE, and clothes provided by a volunteer.
We nicknamed the Residence Inn “FOB Scratch” because FOB stands for “Forward Operating Base” and a term commonly used for outposts in Afghanistan. “Scratch” – well because LTC Nabi is starting from scratch and is one of the pioneers in the Upperwood Foundation’s U Cadet Program – a program that will utilize his thousands of hours of flight experience, and years of training in the United States, to propel (pun fully intended) towards a career in commercial aviation. It’s a time of opportunity and excitement tempered with one harsh reality.
“My family did not make it out of Kabul on the evacuation planes,” laments Nabi. “My wife and children keep changing their location trying to stay ahead of the Taliban. They are being hunted. I can only hope the Taliban won’t find them, and I can bring them to the United States.” ∎
Ninety percent of Afghans live in poverty under Taliban rule. Twenty-two million people face death from starvation and freezing temperatures. If one worked for the previous government, the military, the media, or supported the U.S. in any way, then they are not only unemployed, but also marked for death. They are executed in brutal fashion and frequently the bodies are hung from cranes for all to see. This is the story of three families on the brink of starvation, with no hope, who woke to find food at their door….
In the United States on the east coast, we wake at 4:30 to the constant thrum of messages coming across our phones. While messages come all night long, 4:30 rings out like the start of a horse race. The gates open and the sprint through the day commences. The time zone differences are brutal. Kabul, Afghanistan is 9.5 hours ahead. It’s 4:30am EST, and Afghans in peril seek food, safe shelter to stay ahead of the Taliban, and medical care before their day ends and curfew begins. It’s three hours until the sun comes up in the States and four hours until the sun goes down in Kabul.
It is estimated 22.8 million people face starvation and freezing temperatures this winter in Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the country lives below the poverty line, and it has been reported the poorest sell their children to survive. Supplies delivered by the World Food Program and World Health Organization are immediately seized by the Taliban. The U Supply Corps, supported by the Upperwood Foundation, supplies food, firewood, winter clothing, blankets, and medicine to Afghan families in need. A primary philosophy of the Upperwood Foundation - all materials must be procured locally and delivered by Afghans thereby creating jobs. It is impossible to keep up with the demand.
The Ahmadi (name changed) family had a nice life. Married for ten years, Rafay worked as an accountant for a private company funded by the U.S. Department of State, and his wife worked as an interpreter. They had a house, two cars and three young children. When the Afghan Government fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Rafay lost his job and his medical identity was in the State biometric system making it easy for the Taliban to track him if he attempted to travel. Within a week, the Taliban came to the Ahmadi house. They took the cars, smashed the furniture and windows, and lit the house on fire. The Ahmadi’s had left two days prior and moved into hiding with friends. Their bank accounts seized; a former work associate demanded Rafay do accounting work on the side for free via computer. If Rafay didn’t do the work, the former work associate said he would tell the Taliban where Rafay’s parents lived. Yesterday, Rafay Ahmadi texted they were out of food and could no longer leave the house.
The Khan (name changed) family is a large one. Saimal and his wife raised two boys and a daughter. All received formal education. Saimal worked as training manager for Raytheon, an American company, which manufactures Black Hawk helicopters. His two boys became journalists and married, and his daughter became a teacher. They lived within several miles of each other and enjoyed weekly family get togethers - three generations of the Khan family living a good life. The day the President of Afghanistan fled the country in August 2021, in a helicopter full of cash and cars, Saimal and his two sons went to their local bank to clear out their accounts. The Taliban surrounded the bank and fired shots down the street towards Saimal and his boys. They ran. The Taliban searched for all members of the Khan family. In Afghanistan, the entire family is held responsible for the sins of one. With the father working for Raytheon, the two boys having reported as journalists on the Taliban, and the daughter teaching in a local school, the Taliban marked the Khan family for execution. They fled and live in a house belonging to a distant relative under a fake name and pray for evacuation. Yesterday, they called and said they could no longer go outside because a neighbor had been watching them and asking questions. They had food for only one more day.
Zohra (name changed) grew up in a small family with two brothers. One of her brothers had two children and his wife died from endometritis. Several years later, her brother remarried, and there were problems with the stepmother. Zohra volunteered to care for his two boys with assistance from her parents. Sadly, her parents died from chronic medical issues within two years of each other while she completed her graduate degree in business administration. A single mother, technically a single aunt, Zohra started her own food packaging business growing it to over a hundred employees and marketed it with a culinary magazine with favorite recipes and local stories. Her other brother became the Chief Financial Officer, and business flourished until the second week of August 2021 when the Taliban burned her office and fired rocket propelled grenades into her plant killing her brother and several workers. Zohra fled with her two nephews and moved into one room of a distant cousin’s unoccupied house. There is no power, and they have not been outside in more than two months. A neighbor, who was bringing them food and charging Zohra’s phone, disappeared two days ago. Yesterday, Zohra texted that she and her nephews had run out of food.
Three families without food, without money, without hope for evacuation, exist in a dark and desolate winter where people burn feces and plastic for heat when the wood runs out. Maybe by some miracle, or maybe by the efforts of the U Supply Corps and the Upperwood Foundation, these three families woke to food at their front door. If it sounds implausible, it’s not. It’s just Wednesday morning in the States, and the day is just getting started. ∎
It’s Thursday, February 24th - later in the evening in the States, around 8:30 pm. It’s after early morning prayers in Afghanistan. It’s Friday there, the weekend - when everyone is home. I am glued to CNN watching Russians begin the invasion of Ukraine. I am thinking of my grandfather and how in the early 1970’s he used to make me read the Ballentine Books series on World War II and watch “The World at War” with him. He insisted upon it. He said one day he would be dead and gone and war again would come to Europe because those who could remember would no longer be around to remind those who preferred war to peace.
It begins. My phone starts flashing, buzzing, and ringing in a crashing cacophony of texts and calls. They are the indication of emergencies from Afghans in hiding, high ranking military men who are normally composed and experienced after two decades of fighting the Taliban. They know what to expect. They never call, and when I have talked to them on that rare occasion, they sound overly calm like stereotyped pilots reading British Lit poetry during an emergency. Sentences come from the Afghans like “There are hundreds of Taliban on my street…my neighborhood is sealed off… they’ve kicked my door in… my husband, brother and sons have been taken…. I’m on the run and don’t know where to go.”
Within an hour, my phone battery is nearly dead from constant video calls and feeds. I have received hundreds of photos of smashed furniture, ripped clothes, broken down doors, children crying, bloodied men, women, and children, and Taliban, sometimes in fragments on the screen. Taliban in American uniforms, carrying American guns, driving American military vehicles. Something has changed in Afghanistan. It’s palpable even from 6,600 miles way.
It’s February 25. It’s midnight 05, a silly way I have expressed time since working as a flight medic on a helicopter in the 80’s. I can no longer keep pace with the incoming communication on my encrypted phone app. The number of unread messages is consistently increasing. It’s 12:25 am and we are firmly into Friday in the States. I send a text to someone who works with me trying to save Afghans. It reads, “Have three in labor, trying to deliver seven emergency food drops, scheduling surgery for a five-month-old with a heart defect, waiting to hear back from someone trying to get access to old logbooks, and the Russians are invading Ukraine. Just another night? And WTF is going in an Afghanistan?”
It’s 3:30 am, and somehow people from around the world are sharing information as to what Police Districts and neighborhoods around Kabul the Taliban are in. A few of us are collating information coming from Brazil, England, Ireland, Iraq, Germany, Australia, and the United States and create “INTELLIGENCE VOLUNTEER BRIEFS” and start sharing locations of the search parties. Texts are increasing now and there are more questions than statements.
I sleep a few hours and get my son off to school. He is excited that it’s the end of his week. I feel like there is a tsunami coming my way. Waiting in the drop-off line at high school, I receive a BBC article from a Colonel in Afghanistan. It reads, “Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed in a statement that the ‘clearing operation’ had begun with the participation of three security agencies of the Ministry of Defense, Interior and Taliban Intelligence in Kabul and neighboring provinces. In recent days, there have been reports of hundreds of Taliban troops and equipment being sent to Panjshir province, as well as videos posted on social media showing house to house searches by Taliban force in Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan and Panjshir provinces north of the capital.”
Some of the volunteer evac groups, with names like “Freedom this” and “Allied that” are full of self-professed experts. They are telling people in large posts that this is just a panic, and the reports of searches are fake. I hate these American evac groups. They have fat bank accounts raised from donors who thought they were sending money to feed desperate Afghans and eventually evacuate them from danger. The money gets used for expenses of the evac groups for things like meals and hotels in DC to “influence congressional types” or digital marketing firms to raise even more donations. They contribute nothing towards medical care or humanitarian aid claiming they are waiting for the big day when they can land jumbo jets in Afghanistan and fly people out by the hundreds. I’ve learned nonprofits created by politicians usually have intentions hidden behind the curtain. They sicken me. Only one foundation stands on principle. It’s the Upperwood Foundation. They feed Afghans. They provide medical care. They help Afghans in country and in the US, and they don’t say a word. They don’t take a bow. They just keep on driving and pushing. They always ask what next? They are the epitome of leadership and character because they act when no one watches and no one cares to watch. They don’t even publicize their names.
Information comes in fast and heavy now. I stop for lunch, and my unread messages quickly shoot north of 650. Several of us send out another INTELLIGENCE VOLUNTEER BRIEF that informs confirmed ongoing Taliban activity around Kabul in districts 4, 11, 15,17, Parwan, and Khair Khana. I also confirm the Taliban have the districts blanketed in check points and are surrounding guest houses demanding registration documents for the occupants of the homes.
Notifications from an Afghan hospital tells me we have facilitated the delivery of five infants in the last twenty-four hours through our U Medical Corps, and another text informs of twenty-two food drops occurred through our U Medical Corps – both endeavors funded by the Upperwood Foundation. I call the delivery company and put future food drops on hold until searches lift. Can’t have any more die.
Within an hour the INTELLIGENCE VOLUNTEER BRIEF comes back to me from several people in Afghanistan as top-secret intelligence from the United States government. It seems humorous until texts and calls start coming in, “I can’t get a hold of my family… everyone is missing…they took my father away.”
I don’t have time to journal. Information comes in from individuals, gets confirmed, and then goes back out to large groups in Afghanistan. About a dozen of us in various time zones organize what we can. I’ve missed dinner. When did it get dark out? Desperate for sleep, the last text I read is from an Afghan fighter pilot, “It’s hard to define safe right now in Kabul.”
It's 2:20 am. I wake to a video taken from a covered third or fourth story window of Taliban in force on a street. They are in American Humvees and black armored Range Rovers. There’s a text, “This is the second time they are searching my house & asking for me & my brother! Fortunately, my family was moved to somewhere safe ahead of time! This is the price of loving our country that we are paying, but we are safe because of you. God be with you.” There is no way I can go back to sleep. I am going downstairs. I will sit on a stool at our kitchen island to stay awake. The sun is coming up here. It’s mid afternoon in Afghanistan. I am constantly calculating my time plus 9.5 hours.
6:30 am here, 4:00 pm there. Sun coming up here, sun going down there. I live in two time zones. I keep both times on my phone. I keep the weather in both places on my phone. I am hungry for dinner now and realize sleep deprivation has thrown off my sense of time. I double check the clock on our microwave to make sure it’s dawn and not dusk. The need for information has shifted and increased. Afghans are asking what is happening in the searches and what can they do to prepare. “They searched my uncle’s home. He was a Colonel in the Police force. They were asking for weapons. Threatened them and said to show them anything military before they found it or they would kill them. He turned over his uniforms and a gun. They beat them to death.” Our new communication recommends hiding guns in dirty diapers and in boxes of feminine pads where the Taliban men are less likely to look. There are medals or coins the Americans gave the Afghans like cheap souvenir pieces. They are as useless as the proliferation of certificates the American military and government gave the Afghans. Take photos of the certificates, email them to yourself and burn them with your uniforms I suggest. Put anything metal in dirty diapers. This advice circulates the globe and once again comes back to me as secret intelligence from the US Government. It only took eleven minutes.
1400: This text message from a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic takes my breath away. He’s 25 and the only male left alive in his family. “They put long metal in our clothes and trash. The search inside everything and rip holes. They collect everything in one place. The long metal found military buttons. They were old and Russian and belonged to my father. The Taliban took them.” Shit, metal detectors….. My eyes itch and sear wanting sleep. We compose a new INTELLIGENCE VOLUNTEER BRIEF, “It is reported the Taliban and possibly Badri specific is searching multiple locations for black market passports, weapons, and currency. Homes are being searched with metal detectors for guns, ammunition, and other incriminating evidence of relationship with Americans.” Still trying to get it right. Don’t hide shit in the house. They will find it.
2030: I’ve fallen asleep on the couch. My wife set up a table next to my face. On it are snacks, a power cord, and a charging cord. It’s dark again. Saturday or Sunday? I look at my phone calendar. CNN is on in the background. The Russians are closing in on the capitol of Kyiv, and there are Russian missiles landing 50 miles east of Poland. My unread texts have risen to 887. A quick perusal of texts shows the Taliban are now searching in Districts 4,6,7, 9, 13, 17, and 18. It’s just past morning prayers in Afghanistan. That means the Taliban kept up search activities through the night. We prepare another INTELLIGENCE VOLUNTEER BRIEF and reinforce no metal in the house. Knowing it still dark in Afghanistan, we suggest burying metal objects in the backyards or nearby lots. No sooner does the Intel Brief boomerang back and a text comes in, “The savages are in District 11. They’ve reached our neighborhood. There are drones circling over our street. FTT” It’s a rallying cry throughout the Afghan Signal threads. It stands for FUCK THE TALIBAN. Drones… shit – they can see people burying things in the backyards. A whole new warning has to go out.
Midnight twenty. I break into my wife’s Nantucket chocolate chip cookies knowing there will be hell to pay when she finds out I have eaten them all. The dog whines at my feet. I can’t remember the last time I fed him or walked him. I do both. He’s as screwed up as I am. From the outside of the house, I see my teenage son’s bedroom light is on. He’s up playing video games. It’s his Saturday night. I sneak upstairs. My wife is asleep. My side of the bed is still made. I go back downstairs. I make it to the bottom step and my phone begins to explode in a maelstrom of messages and calls. There is clearly panic in the voices. “Have you seen the latest order by the Taliban? Afghanistan is a prison.” I ask a General, a Colonel, and two Doctors to send me what they are referring to. Photos and translations come across my phone, and I imagine the screen brightening in patterns of three short, three long, three short, an SOS, but I know it’s just my sleep deprived imagination. An edict signed by Shir Mohammad Sharif, the Chief of Border Police of the Ministry of the Interior of the Islamic Emirate orders all borders, airports, and ports to prevent the departure of any Afghans who assisted the US or NATO forces. In addition, the edict prevents Afghans from traveling out of the country without a “valid reason”. The documents also referred to the process of evacuation of vulnerable Afghans by foreign forces and said the Americans had been told that they could take people they cared about, but that was not a permanent process.
0437: I fell asleep talking to a Doctor who needs evacuation. He knows his chances are slim. He’s still on the line. He chides me for snoring and jokes that he could hear me from six thousand miles away. I ask him how long I was asleep. He tells me almost two hours. I ask him why he stayed on the line. He says he had nothing else better to do. He said it comforted him. It’s early afternoon in Afghanistan. I have lost half a day. Sunday, right?
1100: Below 500 on unread texts. Al Jazeera news just came out with an article. Headline reads Taliban conducting house-to-house sweep across Afghan Capital. I think of the idiot evac groups and the morons who kept saying the searches weren’t real. They weren’t communicating or warning Afghans. They were more concerned about egos and enjoying meals in DC at donor’s expense. Funny how stagnant money in a non-profit finds a way to leak out. It starts with reimbursements and then consulting fees.
1830: Shit… four members of a family just got taken away because Taliban found military socks and shoes. How did we not think of that? Okay another Intel Brief needs to go out. I learn of four families missing – all of them. It’s eighteen people. I text them. One dot and not filled. Message didn’t go through. I scan through my unread texts and find one of the families. The last text reads, “Good morning my dear brother. We were doing well until now, but on move from one place to another.” I do the math. I am always doing math. It’s first light in Afghanistan. They’ve been on the run for several hours during their night. I check the weather in Kabul. It’s below freezing. I know this man well. He studied at the US Army Command College in Kansas multiple times. He has a Kansas driver’s license, and he has been photographed at the Pentagon. His wife helped me with new mothers-to-be kit suggestions, and he has four children in Afghanistan and two older twin boys in medical school in Russia. Oh shit – Russia. What is going on in Ukraine? Who turned off CNN?
2010: More people missing….There is no way every one is going to magically show back up in their homes tomorrow. There are no records. No death certificates kept by the Taliban. People are just gone.
Midnight 34: My favorite time of day is 12:34. I don’t care if it’s AM or PM. It’s the only time, twice a day, where everything is in order – aligned in my mind. My goals for the next two hours: confirm scheduling of two C sections today in Afg: one for a mother with a breech baby and one for a mother who has become eclamptic; then double check the code word for our twenty food drops going out, and then try and get unread messages below 800.
0230: I am below 800, but I have two diabetics without insulin and a patient who needs an escort to dialysis because the Taliban took her husband and brothers away. To go outside unaccompanied by a male is to die. To miss dialysis is to die. Problems, solutions…. The dog is making weird noises in his sleep. I realize he’s having a nightmare.
0410: I have ninety minutes until my alarm goes off to start a new week. My son needs to get up then, and my wife deserves coffee in bed. I am turning my phone upside down so I don’t see the flashes.
1000: I woke up to the alarm dreaming I was blowing a lifeguard whistle at people drowning in a pool. I know on some level there is someone who will find the Freudian connection to Afghanistan. My texts are above 900 unread messages, and I’ve got two in labor, and a kid with seizures. Have to get through the unread texts.
1430: I am going to sleep. I am seeing spots like white butterflies dancing.
1515: I am up. Four of us prepare our largest Intel Brief since Thursday: “INTELLIGENCE VOLUNTEER BRIEF: Multiple shepherds and intelligence sources are reporting the massive surge in Taliban activity is not only increasing but expanding to other geographic areas. In KBL, house to house searches have recently taken place in multiple geographic areas including but not limited to Districts 2,5, 6, 9, 11, and 19. During the searches, reports show increased levels of training via squad tactics, use of handheld biometrics devices, NDS uniforms, metal detectors, Badri 313 and Red Brigade involvement, as well as drones in flight with ISR suggesting day zoom and thermal night operational capabilities. In addition, there is confirmed intelligence that the Taliban have the capability to pull and intercept cellphone signals via portable devices that look like small pelican cases. There are reports that CHN MSS, PAK ISI, and both IRN IRGC and VAJA intelligence agencies are assisting in some of these operations. The Taliban and like groups are looking for connections to US and NATO forces from military uniforms to shoes, to weapons, to certificates of education. The Taliban is basically looking for any connection to ISISK, coalition forces or the NRF, false documents etc. There are unconfirmed reports that the Taliban has begun to seize and or destroy AFG passports preventing travel outside AFG as per a new edict banning travel by those who were employed and or associated with US and/or NATO forces. There are multiple reports that searches are going to start all over MZR next week but prepare NOW as it could be sooner. Sources are stating that the same searches are expected to begin in other larger AFG cities, specifically mentioned Jalabad, Kandahar, and Herat. Any intelligence sources suggest this will expand to smaller towns and villages as well. Please place your documents on a cloud if you can. These raids will most likely continue for several weeks.”
1943: I receive seven texts almost simultaneously, “Multiple confirmed eyewitness reports of mass execution and burial of 100s of Tajiks in Kapisa and other areas of Afghanistan.” I can’t stay awake any longer. It’s been almost 98 hours, and I’ve slept less than six since Thursday. The guilt of going to sleep covers me like a blanket. ∎
In partnership with The Upperwood Foundation, Awareness Ties produces and publishes the 'Hope For Afghanistan' stories written by Russ Prichard.
From delivering babies in Afghanistan to delivering supplies sent from the U.S., Russ Pritchard delivers hope to the people of Afghanistan. While he would say he’s just a glorified telephone operator, he’s so much more. He runs the U Medical Corps, bringing help and hope to those unseen and unheard.