BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — When the Taliban arrived at the doorstep of the Afghan capital two weeks ago, Qiamuddin Safi knew he was in deep trouble. As an officer in the Afghan National Army, Safi — as he is known to all — had worked closely with the U.S. military almost since the start of the war 20 years ago.
The Taliban would be looking for him. He had to get out. On Aug. 18 — 15 days after surviving a car bomb explosion on the street outside his office that sent a piece of shrapnel into his leg — he got out of the country, shoehorned into a U.S. C-17 transport plane.
He would live to eventually see his wife and two children again. Back in his second home — Bakersfield.
But the anguish isn’t over for Safi. His family contracts with the U.S. government. His uncle is a senator in the Afghan government’s legislature. They’re precisely the type of people the Taliban is looking for.
And then this — the chaos at the Kabul airport where Afghan citizens and foreign nationals alike have been clamoring to escape before the U.S.’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31. Among the horde — several of Safi’s relatives, some of them interpreters for the U.S. government. They’d been instructed to go to the airfield’s Abbey Gate. And that’s where they were Thursday when ISIS-K — the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, determined to disrupt the U.S. withdrawal and destabilize the Taliban — set off two suicide bombs that ripped through the crowd, killing at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. servicemen — and Safi’s cousin. Three other family members are hospitalized.
“He was 32 years old,” Safi said of his cousin, “and he had three children.”
Safi’s wife — they’re separated but still close — is Lauren Yoder, an Amnesty International volunteer who lives in Bakersfield. She says the U.S. failed to follow through on its obligations.
“Once all of the U.S. troops, or whoever that’s trying to get these people out, are gone, you still have this population of people who need help,” said Yoder, who has created a nonprofit with her husband, the Tear Catcher Foundation, to do exactly that. “Those are a vulnerable population.”
The foundation does not yet have a website.
As a Command Sergeant Major in the Afghan Army, Safi had on occasion escorted U.S. General David Petraeus, using English skills he’d picked up as a student at Bakersfield College. Now he’s looking to Bakersfield and the U.S. for help and understanding.
“My children are from Bakersfield,” Safi said. “I am from Bakersfield. I need your help.”
Lauren Yoder said she went Friday to see if her congressman, Kevin McCarthy, could help. She intended to ask him to exert his influence to keep U.S. troops in place long enough for the Americans to fulfill their obligation to the Afghans who have assisted them — at great risk to themselves and their families — for two decades. She said she didn’t get past the receptionist.
Safi says he blames President Biden for failing to plan for a more orderly and thorough evacuation. But instead of helping him fix the government’s missteps, he said, Washington has allowed the withdrawal to slide into the futile muck of political finger-pointing.