These five sisters among the crowd outside Kabul airport have told MailOnline of their desperate efforts to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban burnt their house down.
The young women are Hazaras, a peaceful ethnic Shia group living in Hazarajat in central Afghanistan among the Hindu Kush mountains.
With fair complexions and delicate features, the Hazara have long been the victims of persecution from other groups down the decades – and most recently by the Taliban.
Aaina Sheikh, 19, a high school student, said she was at the airport with her four sisters and brother. ‘We want to go to America, we cannot stay here safely,’ she said.
None of the women, nor their brother, even have passports, far less the visa documentation that would allow them to travel, but that doesn’t stop them hoping for a miracle.
The young women (pictured with their brother) are Hazaras, a peaceful ethnic Shia group living in Hazarajat in central Afghanistan among the Hindu Kush mountains
With fair complexions and delicate features, the Hazara have long been the victims of persecution from other groups down the decades – and most recently by the Taliban. Pictured left to right: Hawa, Hafizah and Aaina
‘Until last week we were living happily in our home and then the Taliban came and burned it to the ground,’ said Aaina.
‘Our parents told us to leave because they feared for our lives.’
In recent weeks there have been countless reports of Taliban abducting young women and girls to be their ‘wives’ – or sex slaves – as they have captured cities, towns and villages across the country.
So the Sheikh women set off on the 150-mile journey to Kabul airport on Sunday and have been sleeping on the pavements since then, with only their brother Nader, 25, a salesman, to try and protect them.
Aaina, the second youngest of the six siblings, added: ‘We have some money which we are spending I don’t know how long that will last.
‘We’re too young to remember the Taliban before, but our parents have told us how they killed so many Hazara people in the past.’
The sisters are all living proof of the advancement of women in Afghanistan in the last two decades.
The Sheikh women set off on the 150-mile journey to Kabul airport on Sunday and have been sleeping on the pavements since then, with only their brother Nader, 25, a salesman, to try and protect them. Left: Aaina. Right: Marjaan
Aaina’s sister Hafizah (pictured), 23 was studying computer science at a polytechnic in Kabul, while her other sisters, twins Hawa and Latifa, 20, and 18-year-old Marjaan, are also students
Aaina’s sister Hafizah, 23 was studying computer science at a polytechnic in Kabul, while her other sisters, twins Hawa and Latifa, 20, and 18-year-old Marjaan, are also students.
Now all that progress could be thrown away after the US and its allies turned its back on Afghanistan.
Few set much store by the doubtful pledges by the Taliban leaders that they have changed their attitude towards women.
The Taliban have promised girls can go to school, for now, but asked if women will again be stoned for adultery or if thieves would face amputations, their spokesman insisted those decisions that could only be made by a Sharia judge.
Whether the Sheikh family will be able to escape their homeland for a better life is a question which remains unanswered, but they haven’t given up hope.
Our boys’ last stand in Kabul: Drama as British paratroopers desperately hold the line amid airport anarchy in Afghanistan as ministers admit it may be engulfed within 48 hours
- As pictures showed airport being surrounded by scenes of anarchy, the Paras mounted a frantic last stand
- Women and children were crushed in a stampede as huge crowds tried to escape the Afghan capital of Kabul
- US President Joe Biden admitted that he could not guarantee what the ‘final outcome’ would be
- Boris Johnson said Britain was having to ‘manage the consequences’ of decision by the US to withdraw troops
British Paratroopers have desperately tried to hold the line at Kabul airport amid fears the rescue mission could collapse in days, leaving thousands behind.
As dramatic pictures showed the airport being surrounded by scenes of anarchy and anguish, the Paras mounted a frantic last stand to prevent the operation descending into chaos.
Women and children were crushed in a stampede as huge crowds tried to escape the Afghan capital and reach the sanctuary of an evacuation flight.
US President Joe Biden said it was one of the ‘most difficult’ airlifts in history and admitted he could not guarantee what the ‘final outcome’ would be.
He said he wanted all Americans out of Afghanistan by August 31 – a move that appears to set a deadline for the evacuation of all Westerners and their allies. Boris Johnson said Britain was having to ‘manage the consequences’ of the ’emphatic’ decision by the US to withdraw its troops from the country. He admitted the rescue effort faced ‘formidable’ challenges and the situation in Afghanistan was ‘precarious’.
Chaotic scenes are seen in Kabul as people try to reach the airport via the entrance controlled by British and American soldiers. Women and children were crushed in a stampede as huge crowds tried to escape the Afghan capital and reach the sanctuary of an evacuation flight
Flashpoint: A pistol is raised as British forces contain the crowds outside Kabul Airport on Friday. Some of the Afghans in the crowd can also be seen holding up British passports
Members of the UK Armed Forces take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport. Boris Johnson said Britain was having to ‘manage the consequences’ of the ’emphatic’ decision by the US to withdraw its troops from the country
Armed Forces minister James Heappey conceded the UK would not be able to rescue everyone who has been promised sanctuary here and the operation at Kabul airport may remain open for only two more days.
Britain has promised to evacuate 7,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, but Mr Heappey said the ‘sad truth’ was that ‘we don’t have it in our gift to stay there until absolutely everyone is out’.
Mr Heappey’s admission and the astonishing scenes in Kabul raised fears last night that many Afghan translators and their families could get left behind. The Taliban have already started going door to door in the country, hunting down those who worked for the West.
Yesterday, Nato begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised … the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’
It is thought that British and European Special Forces troops are trying to mount rescue missions in Kabul city to retrieve the vulnerable, but that US troops have been ordered to remain at the airfield.
A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport to be evacuated in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday in an image taken from a video obtained from social media
Members of the UK Armed Forces continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport. Yesterday, Nato begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
Afghan baby seen being lifted by US Marine over barbed wire wall has been reunited with her father
A baby who was captured in a viral video being handed to a U.S. Marine over a wall topped with barbed-wire at Kabul airport in Afghanistan has been reunited with her father.
The video, which was taken by Omar Haidari, a human rights activist sees the sobbing infant, said to be a girl, being handed over to a Marine across a reinforced wall at Hamad Karzai International Airport who then hands the child to a fellow soldier.
Marine Corps officials confirmed Friday that a member of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is seen receiving a child in a viral video showing the infant being handed through the crowds.
At one point yesterday, a crowd of desperate Afghans surged forwards in an attempt to access the airport, forcing the Paras to link arms and push them back. In the frightening melee, a British soldier had his helmet ripped off and appeared in danger of being crushed by the angry crowd.
Behind the Paras, an unidentified man who was part of their security team, raised a Special Forces-issue Glock handgun above his head and motioned as if to open fire.
Troops from the Parachute Regiment’s Second Battalion (2 Para) then screamed ‘Get back, get back!’ at Afghans attempting to reach the airfield through a gate which had been opened so a security vehicle could drive out.
Last night, the Prime Minister claimed the situation at the airport was getting ‘slightly better’. He added: ‘Yesterday we were able to get out about a thousand people, today another thousand people, and a lot of those are obviously UK-eligible persons coming back to this country. So a lot of them are coming back under the Afghanistan resettlement and assistance programme.’
Mr Johnson said he would work with the Taliban to ‘find a solution’, adding: ‘It is worth repeating that at the end of a 20-year cycle of engagement there is a huge record to be proud of in Afghanistan.
‘It bears repeating that the UK Armed Forces, UK diplomats, aid workers, did help to change the lives of literally millions of people in Afghanistan, to help educate millions of women and young girls who would otherwise not have been educated and to stop terrorism from coming to this country.
‘And what I want to assure people is that our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan – working with the Taliban, of course, if necessary – will go on.
‘Our commitment to Afghanistan is lasting.’
President Joe Biden vowed Friday to get all Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan and took questions from White House reporters – on a pre-approved list – for the first time in nine days. ‘Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,’ Biden pledged during the speech he started 50 minutes late where he stumbled over answers.
Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on Friday. It is thought that British and European Special Forces troops are trying to mount rescue missions in the city to retrieve the vulnerable, but that US troops have been ordered to remain at the airfield
UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and US Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Friday
What happens to the babies passed over the wire by desperate mothers at Kabul airport?
Babies being passed over the fence to soldiers at Kabul airport are being returned to their families, according to the Ministry of Defence. A source told the MailOnline that troops on the ground are ‘doing their best to return’ each child to their parents.
They added that no unaccompanied children have been left at the airport, nor are any being evacuated on flights from the Afghan capital. The MOD source said there was not any representation from the UN on an NGO during the chaotic scenes at the airport.
But his words contrasted with dramatic images of the thousands massing around Kabul airport in a bid to board one of the mercy flights, the last route out of Afghanistan.
Some were UK nationals who had to resort to frantically waving their passports to attract the attention of British soldiers.
Panic set in amid the scene of towering concrete blast walls and fencing topped with razor wire, and desperate parents held terrified crying babies aloft for Coalition troops above them to pluck them to safety.
Time appears to be running out for many of the interpreters who had been promised a new life in Britain after they stood shoulder to shoulder with troops in Helmand province in the fighting there which cost 457 British lives.
Mr Heappey’s warning yesterday raised further alarm over how many of these Afghans, who likely face death sentences under Taliban rule, will be left behind. The minister said: ‘The air bridge has two more days, five more days, ten days.
‘It keeps absolutely everyone here at the Ministry of Defence awake at night – that reality that we won’t get absolutely everyone out.
‘At the moment the large majority are getting to us. Now of course, some will not be able to get to us.
‘There are people who are in deep fear and quite rightly feel that they can’t risk it. There are others who are much further afield in Afghanistan and will have a real challenge to get [to the airport].’
Biden: Nato agreed with US withdrawal
By Mail Foreign Service for the Daily Mail
Joe Biden issued another extraordinary defence of his handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, claiming every Nato member, including Britain, agreed with his decision to pull troops out.
The US President said he spoke to world leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June telling them of his plans and was given full backing.
Ignoring a cascade of criticism that has come America’s way this week as the Taliban took over the capital Kabul, Mr Biden said: ‘I’ve seen no questioning of our credibility from our allies around the world. In fact I’ve seen the exact opposite.’
Joe Biden (pictured on Friday) issued another extraordinary defence of his handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, claiming every Nato member, including Britain, agreed with his decision to pull troops out
NATO begs Biden NOT to leave Kabul: Transatlantic alliance says US should stay at airport
NATO has begged Joe Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible – as American forces are accused of hiding behind the wire while British and European troops mount recuse missions into the city.
The US was urged to extend its August 31 deadline to save more evacuees from the Taliban by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a press conference on Friday.
America is by far the strongest military power in Nato and it is unusual for the alliance to publicly issue requests to the White House.
He said the challenge was not so much transporting people from Kabul but getting them to the airport in the first place, and this was ‘an urgent need’.
British, French and German special forces have been speeding into Kabul in armored cars, despite the huge risk from Taliban fighters, while the US forces are reportedly under strict orders to remain at the airport.
But they are reliant on the 6,000 American troops has deployed to secure Kabul airport, and would be forced to leave if Biden withdraws.
‘Our Nato allies are standing strongly with us,’ he added.
His claim came just hours after Boris Johnson appeared to issue a coded criticism of the President, saying allies would have to ‘manage the consequences’ of the US decision to withdraw and two days after a Commons debate poured scorn on the President. Mr Johnson said: ‘We went in to Afghanistan to support and help protect the United States. So when the United States decides emphatically to withdraw in the way that they have, clearly, we’re going to have to manage the consequences.’
The US leader said he had spoken to Mr Johnson this week, along with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron and said they would speak again at a special G7 meeting next week. As scenes on the ground continued to descend into mayhem, Mr Biden said: ‘I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, that it will be without risk of loss.
‘There will be time to criticise and second guess when this is over, for now, I’m focused on getting the job done.’
His comments at a White House news conference came as the US government struggled to ramp up a massive airlift clearing Americans, other foreigners and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul airport.
Mr Biden is facing criticism for chaotic and often violent scenes outside the airport with crowds struggling to reach safety inside.
In his third attempt in five days to show he has command of the situation, following a previous speech and a TV interview, Mr Biden promised he would get every American home. But the President warned: ‘This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history. Make no mistake – this evacuation mission is dangerous.’
Addressing harrowing footage from Kabul airport, he said: ‘I don’t think of any us can see these pictures and not feel pain at a human level.’
US flights out of the airport were paused for more than eight hours yesterday because the American air base in Qatar where evacuees were being taken was full, leaving many crushed outside the airport.
‘We paused flights out of Kabul this morning to make sure we could progress evacuees at their transit points,’ Mr Biden said, adding that flights had resumed last night.
It emerged yesterday that around two dozen US diplomats in Afghanistan sent an internal cable last month warning secretary of state Antony Blinken of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban as US troops withdrew.
The Wall Street Journal said the confidential cable sent through a so-called ‘dissent channel’ was signed on July 13 and offered recommendations on ways to mitigate the crisis and accelerate an evacuation.
‘I know I am going to be killed’: Terrified former frontline interpreter who faithfully served the UK is forced into hiding in a secret location in Kabul and says he fears for his life after being ‘abandoned’ in Afghanistan
A former frontline interpreter was in tears when he spoke to the Mail yesterday from a secret location in Kabul: angry, desperate and terrified.
One hour earlier, Yama had received an email from the British. Without warning, he was told – in stark officialise – he no longer qualified for sanctuary.
It was a bolt from the blue. The British had granted him permission to come to the UK eight months ago, and he and his disabled wife Parwana, 30, had been waiting for the call to leave.
He has spent months playing cat and mouse with the Taliban, growing a traditional beard to blend in, and, as they advanced on the capital, he has changed homes three times. On one short journey this week, he risked 12 checkpoints.
The 31-year-old former translator had been desperately trying to get to the airport and on to a flight with his wife.
One hour earlier, Yama had received an email from the British. Without warning, he was told – in stark officialise – he no longer qualified for sanctuary. It was a bolt from the blue
Now, he feels abandoned by the country he served so faithfully.
His bleak message: ‘I know I am going to be killed – there is no other way. I am very desperate.’
No wonder. This week, he had to flee his latest hiding place as Taliban fighters went door-to-door.
‘We just heard noises… and suddenly one of our female neighbours knocked on our door and explained about the searches by the Taliban group,’ he said.
‘Scared, I put on my clothes and ran from my home… They went door-to-door, asking about weapons, vehicles and the documents. They were shouting and entering homes after knocking very strongly. Everyone just panicked.’
He said he fled to a relative’s house four miles away and sent his wife to her parents’ home.
And then, yesterday morning, he received the devastating news from the Home Office.
The former translator said: ‘I could not believe it. We are heartbroken, devastated and do not understand this. It is so cruel and unjust. The Taliban is hunting me by name because of my work for the British forces.
‘One minute, we are anxiously waiting for a call from the British Afghan team asking us to go to the airport to fly to the UK, and the next – without any explanation or justification – we are told we are being left behind to the revenge of the Taliban.
‘I am so angry but I am also frightened. Why did they build up our hopes and then crush us just as the Taliban is growing nearer?’
The couple say they are especially vulnerable because Parwana is disabled in her legs – the result of shrapnel from a Taliban mortar when she was five – and has enjoyed a high-profile international career as a powerlifter, a type of competitive weightlifter.
She has competed for Afghanistan around the world and was selected to take part in the Paralympics in Tokyo. But because of the worsening situation, she put her athletic career on hold.
Yama said: ‘She has proudly represented her country many times as a disabled woman who uses a wheelchair. This alone would make her a target of the Taliban even without me being a translator for their enemy.’
He continued: ‘We desperately try to stay a step ahead of the Taliban but it is difficult now that so many of their men are arriving and they have spies everywhere, even in my wife’s family.
‘We have waited and waited for relocation, answered many questions and completed many forms but it has taken so long that the Taliban has arrived.’
He added: ‘We are in shock and do not know what to do.’
Yama, who spent three years in Helmand between 2010 and 2013, said he was forced to resign after members of Parwana’s family warned him he would be punished for working for the British forces.
He says he is baffled as to why he has been refused sanctuary. He wonders if it is because some of his relatives are Taliban. One, he said, attacked him with a knife for his translator work.
For its part, the Government sounds as if it will not budge. Asked about the case, it said in a statement: ‘We are doing everything we can to resettle Afghan nationals but we will not compromise on security.
‘We have thorough checks across Government and world-class intelligence agencies. If someone is assessed as presenting a national security risk to this country, we will take action.’
But this statement fails to address the fact that Yama had already been accepted in December, only for the invitation to be snatched away at the eleventh hour – with, says the ex-translator, possibly fatal consequences.