Rescue groups: US tally misses hundreds left in Afghanistan

Sep 3, 2021, 7:37 PM | Updated: Sep 4, 2021, 9:29 am
FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2021 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, an Air Force aircrew, assigned t...

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2021 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, an Air Force aircrew, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, prepares to receive soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of the final noncombatant evacuation operation missions at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul Afghanistan. The Taliban, which is in need of foreign aid, has said it will allow people with valid travel papers to leave, and the international community says it will be monitoring to see if they keep their word. (Senior Airman Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force via AP)

(Senior Airman Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force via AP)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Veteran-led rescue groups say the Biden administration’s estimate that no more than 200 U.S. citizens were left behind in Afghanistan is too low and also overlooks hundreds of other people they consider to be equally American: permanent legal residents with green cards.

Some groups say they continue to be contacted by American citizens in Afghanistan who did not register with the U.S. Embassy before it closed and by others not included in previous counts because they expressed misgivings about leaving loved ones behind.

As for green card holders, they have lived in the U.S. for years, paid taxes, become part of their communities and often have children who are U.S. citizens. Yet the administration says it does not have an estimate on the number of such permanent residents who are in Afghanistan and desperately trying to escape Taliban rule.

“The fear is that nobody is looking for them,” said Howard Shen, spokesman for the Cajon Valley Union School District in the San Diego area that is in contact with one such family who says they cannot get out.

“They are thousands of miles away under an oppressive regime and we’re leaving them behind,” he said. “That’s not right.”

Stung by the U.S. military’s chaotic and deadly retreat, President Biden has promised that evacuation efforts will continue for the 100 to 200 American citizens who want to leave, most of whom he said are dual citizens. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that extends to green card holders and Afghans who supported the U.S. government during the 20-year war.

It’s unclear how that will work without an active U.S. military presence in the country and the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport, a major way out of the country, now closed. But an undersecretary of state said this past week that all American citizens and permanent residents who could not get evacuation flights or were otherwise stranded had been contacted and told to expect further details about routes out once those have been arranged.

Three school districts in California say they know of more than 30 children enrolled in their schools who have not been able to return. One family who has lived in Sacramento for years has been texting daily with their children’s elementary school principal while trying to escape.

The parents and three children — all legal U.S. residents — went to Afghanistan in April to care for their sick grandmother after being unable to do so for months because of COVID-19 restrictions. Caught by surprise by the quick Taliban takeover, the family members were unable to get through the crush of thousands of people at the airport in Kabul before the last U.S. plane left Aug. 31.

Now they fear they will be forgotten by the U.S. government, especially since they are not American citizens.

“I’m loosing the hope,” the mother, who is not being named to protect her safety, texted in broken English to Principal Nate McGill, who urged her to not give up.

McGill said California Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, who has been working to free the family, tried to help them board a flight in Afghanistan. But they were pushed back. The family, whose three children are in first, third and fourth grade, fled amid tear gas and gunfire as U.S. forces and the Taliban tried to control the crowd.

“We run away from the gate. Situation is very scary. Kids are crying because of these firing,” the mother texted, later adding: “I totally lost my mind sir … today I saw my death.”

Mohammad Faizi, a green card holder from the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, said he and his wife and five children were stopped by the Taliban at a checkpoint on their way to the airport. His wife is a U.S. citizen.

Faizi, whose family got out just before the last U.S. flight left, said he was asked at the checkpoint why he was trying to leave Afghanistan. “I told him, ‘That’s our country. That’s my nation. We’re living there. So we have to get out of here.”’

The Taliban, which are in need of foreign aid, have said they will allow people with valid travel papers to leave, and the international community says it will be monitoring to see if they keep their word.

Mike Jason, who runs an ad-hoc rescue operation called Allied Airlift 21, said his volunteer group has been in contact with 78 green card holders trapped in the country, but that the figure does not capture the scale of the problem. Add their spouses and children to the tally, he said, and the number rises to nearly 400.

Jason and others say they also believe the number of U.S. citizens is much higher than 200 people and is misleading because it does not include their family members who may be green card holders. Allied Airlift has identified 45 U.S. citizens in the country but has documents on more than 250 family members stuck there with them.

Such volunteers say they are also skeptical of the government’s estimate because it only includes American citizens who registered with the U.S. Embassy before it was shuttered in Kabul, a process that was entirely voluntary.

Alex Plitsas, an Iraq War veteran who is part of an informal rescue network called Digital Dunkirk, said he received calls from six U.S. citizens stuck in Afghanistan in just one day earlier this week — and none had registered with the U.S. Embassy.

He suspects the true number of U.S. citizens left behind could be off by hundreds.

“Those names are starting to trickle out now,” said Plitsas, a former civilian intelligence officer in Afghanistan. “I expect that number to rise significantly.”

Plitsas said he’s also handled pleas from more than 100 U.S. green card holders trying to leave over the past two weeks and says they should get just as much attention as U.S. citizens.

“They live here,” he said. “They’re our folks.”

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s office said he is working to evacuate an 80-year-old couple who are both U.S. citizens and live in San Diego County, along with two other families from his congressional district that covers El Cajon.

The administration says 6,000 U.S. citizens made it out, most on U.S. military flights.

Issa said he believes the number of U.S. citizens still there and wanting to leave is closer to 500. That includes roughly the number the State Department says made clear they want to leave and additional U.S. citizens who were not counted because they expressed concern about “leaving behind family members to die.”

If you include the family members of U.S. citizens, the number of people could be as high as 1,000, he added.

“Unless we continue and get the rest of our American citizens, and all those otherwise eligible out, we won’t have done our job,” Issa said.

Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, a former Air Force officer receiving calls for help in the rescue effort, said the Biden administration needs to give a full accounting of those left behind and stop limiting its official tally to U.S. citizens.

“The problem is, it doesn’t include families,” he said. “They’re lowballing the numbers.”

Rescue coordinator Chuck Nadd, an Afghanistan veteran, said the numbers being reported back to him by 180 Digital Dunkirk volunteers suggest there are hundreds of green card holders desperate to get out.

Among them are the three Sacramento schoolchildren whose mother recently texted their principal a photo of them with forlorn faces and handmade signs reading, “Take us out of Afghanistan, please” and “I am SO scared here.”


Condon reported from New York. Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Matt Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


People walk across Westminster Bridge in London, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. British Prime Minister Bor...
Associated Press

UK inquiry to look into 2 more alleged government gatherings

LONDON (AP) — The British government confirmed Thursday that an inquiry into an alleged lockdown-breaching Christmas party at the offices of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson nearly a year ago will also look at two prior gatherings involving government officials. In a statement to lawmakers, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis laid out the terms of […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Italian bank UniCredit plans to give investors $18B by 2024

MILAN (AP) — Italian bank UniCredit announced a three-year business plan Thursday that includes distributing some 16 billion euros ($18 billion) to shareholders from 2022 to 2024. The plan under CEO Andrea Orcel, who took over in April, also calls for raising net profit to 4.5 billion euros by 2024, from a targeted 3.3 billion […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Pet insurance can help keep costs for your furbaby in check

You might be thinking of adding a furry friend to the family during the holidays. And you’ll be in good company: 70% of U.S. households have a pet, according to the 2021-2022 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. As cute as pets are, they’re a financial commitment. Americans spent $103.6 billion on their […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Italy dentist with fake silicone arm gets vaccine – for real

ROME (AP) — An Italian dentist who presented a fake arm for a COVID-19 vaccine says he has since gotten a shot and that the vaccine “is the best weapon we have against this terrible disease.” Dr. Guido Russo faces possible criminal fraud charges for having worn an arm made out of silicone when he […]
1 day ago
In this image taken from video footage run by China's CCTV, astronaut Wang Yaping, right, addresses...
Associated Press

Chinese astronauts give science lesson from space station

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese astronauts on Thursday beamed back a science lesson from the country’s under-construction space station. The lecture focused on physics, aiming to illustrate how the weightless environment affects buoyancy, the movement of objects and optics. Students from five cities, including Beijing and the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong, peppered the astronauts with […]
1 day ago
FILE - Police officers stand at the outer entrance of the Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center in Dabanche...
Associated Press

UK independent body: China committed genocide in Xinjiang

LONDON (AP) — An independent and unofficial body set up by a prominent British barrister to assess evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people concluded Thursday that the Chinese government committed genocide and crimes against humanity. The Uyghur Tribunal, made up of lawyers, academics and businesspeople, doesn’t have any government backing or […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Rescue groups: US tally misses hundreds left in Afghanistan