It’s a deadly race against time for New Yorkers’ families trapped in Afghanistan.
A Bensonhurst man prays for the safety of eight loved ones trapped in Kabul. An ex-U.S. aide in Gravesend longs to be reconnected with his wife stuck at the airport. A 68-year-old Long Island woman aches to be reunited with countless relatives. An upstate woman is having “nightmares” after barely making it out alive.
The gut-wrenching waiting game has become unbearable as the Tuesday deadline for the U.S. to evacuate the war-torn nation approaches amid escalating bloodshed.
The Bensonhurst man, who identified himself only as “Mustafa” because he fears reprisal against his trapped family, told The Post his relatives are hunkered down in their Kabul apartment, fearing a trip to the city’s airport would be a death wish.
“They are not safe, nobody there is,” Mustafa said. “I cannot describe my emotions, it’s too hard for me. When I think about my family, it makes me crazy, their life is in danger.”
The 31-year-old Afghanistan native — a server at a Queens restaurant — said he barely sleeps and would return to his homeland if he could to rescue his 20-year-old wife; his brother, his sister-in-law, his three nieces and two nephews.
Mustafa’s friend from Gravesend, “Siddiqi,” is similarly devastated. Tears filled the 48-year-old’s eyes after he learned a comrade was among the dead in Thursday’s terror attack outside the Kabul airport that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military members.
And then there is Siddiqi’s 35-year-old wife, who has waited “every day and every night” at the Kabul airport with identifying documents, he said. But she’s gotten no help from American troops or law enforcement. “There were several times where she was under the crowd of people, under the feet of people trying to get out of Kabul,” he said. “She’s faced a lot of difficulties, she couldn’t make it.”
Siddiqi breaks down at the thought of his wife being alone in Kabul.
Siddiqi had been contracted by the U.S. military since 2002. He came to the U.S. on a business trip in 2019. After the Taliban told his family they’d kill him due to his ties to the U.S. contractor, he decided not to return. “I was a target for them,” he said.
Great Neck resident Latifa Woodhouse, 68, a Kandahar native, pines for countless family members in Afghanistan, including her brother, her sister-in-law and their six children — who have been hiding out at home, surviving on onions, bread and water.
Woodhouse said her nephews cried on the phone during the Taliban takeover that included an earth-shaking explosion earlier this month. Three days after, she said her brother went on a walk in the city only to see bodies “lying everywhere. … The bodies of mainly trained army men fighting the Taliban had their brains on the streets, that’s how bad it was.”
Close encounters with the Taliban have been potentially deadly. Her 14-year-old nephew answered the door for soldiers. After the soldiers asked for Woodhouse’s brother, her nephew told them his father wasn’t home and started to weep. Woodhouse’s niece, along with her nephew, escaped from Kabul airport to Qatar a week ago.
U.S. officials have warned more attacks could be possible ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from the country.
Among those who have sought refuge in the U.S. is Faziya Nematy, an upstate Schenectady resident who told CBS6 Albany she dressed up as a male member of the Taliban to “blend in” as they took over the country. After a family visit in Kandahar a month prior, she found herself stuck in Kabul in early August. In videos, she can be seen telling her child to “get down” while someone bangs on a taxi she is taking to the airport.
“As I’m talking to you, my body is just shivering and it’s like I’m in a panic,” she told WGRB. Nematy returned to the U.S. after arriving by plane in Qatar with 14 other family members.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said a Gravesend family was among a number of New Yorkers and those with family in New York who sought evacuation this month. She said one father reached out to her office in the hopes of getting his wife and three children to safety. After getting in touch with the State Department, a U.S. military aircraft brought the family to Qatar, leading the way for their eventual return home, she said.
Malliotakis said her office helped support the evacuation of two West Point grads, two U.S. citizens, and three other families — either working with the U.S. military or U.S. — as of Thursday.
After years of supporting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Siddiqi said it’s “unfair and unjust” that the government is not helping him in America and his wife in Kabul. He pointed to Afghans who have gotten on planes and sought refuge in America due to the crisis while he has waited for years.
“My wife is suffering, she has nowhere to go,” Siddiqi fumed. “Is this their policy? To tell the people of the world that if they help the world, at the end they’ll be helpless?”