KSL+: Utahns stuck in Afghanistan

Aug 19, 2021, 9:14 PM

Matt Rascon: Today on KSL+, painful images out of Afghanistan, an impossible exit for so many looking for safety. And the chaos at the end of America’s longest war, lasting 20 years, stretches beyond the borders of Afghanistan. I’m Matt Rascon and this is KSL+, and today we’re taking a closer look at the impact of the unfolding Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, and how it’s impacting people a world away in Utah.

Over the last few days, my colleagues and I at KSL-TV, have spoken to Utahns with connections to Afghanistan, including Layne Morris, who returned 19 years ago after fighting al Qaeda. Shrapnel from a hand grenade blinded him in his right eye. Now with the Afghan government collapsed, Morris rejects the idea that the United States failed in its mission.

Layne Morris: When you join the military, you join up understanding that you’re going to go and fight who your political leaders tell you is the enemy and who you need to fight. And so when you ask me if it was worth it, it was worth it to me. I don’t feel like… I don’t feel like my sacrifice is in vain, or a waste. I just I don’t look at it like that. I’m sure there’s people out there that maybe do look at it that way. Whether they were wounded or not, maybe they just spent a year away from their families over there. But I just don’t look at it, as was it worth it Or not worth in those terms. I went and did what my country asked me to do, and it was an honor. And I’d do it again. Go tomorrow, if we need to go back there. I’m sure they don’t need me. But that’s my role. That was my role as a soldier. And I did it proudly, and was thrilled to do it. And I do it again.

So was it worth it? It was absolutely worth it. We accomplished the main mission, which was to get al Qaeda out of there. Taliban, like I said the Taliban was just in the way. So that was Mission accomplished. We’ve set those guys up, you know, anybody that says that this is a US failure? I think is not placing the blame, where the blame needs to be. You know, there’s that old saying about the, you know, freedom, the taste, freedom as a flavor. For those who have fought for it, that the protected don’t know and well, in Afghanistan. They’re going to find out about losing freedom. And I hope as a people and as a country, that they make a decisions that instead of looking around and saying somebody needs to do something about this, that they’ll say, I’m going to do something about this. I mean, it’s really it’s a testament to both the brutality of the, of the Taliban. And, and, and people’s unwillingness to express themselves.

Matt Rascon: Jennie Taylor’s husband, Major Brent Taylor was killed in an insider attack by an Afghan Special Forces trainee in November 2018. While serving with the Utah National Guard.

Jennie Taylor: We’ve got to be really careful that we don’t call everything a waste, because I think if anything ever is a waste any trial, we as a person or the country, a world face. If we let it be a waste, I think that’s on us for not learning and growing. I would say instead of pointing fingers, it’s time for some pointed questions. We need to really dig deep as Americans and ask ourselves, what are we doing in our individual spheres in our own homes and communities to make the world a better place, to make it so it’s worth it? People ask that all the time. Is it worth it? Is it worth it? You decide, are you going to make it worth it? Are you going to help your children make it worth it? Are you going to rise up and, help raise that next greatest generation of Americans? Or are we all going to sit back into feet and say, well, it’s too bad we tried. I for one, we can’t give up. And we’ll keep going. I know Brent died loving the Afghan people. He died trying to give them freedom and hope and opportunity. And he wasn’t only willing to die if there was victory at the end of the battle, you know, hundreds and 1000s of our brave men and women die in battle long before they know what treaty will get signed at the end. But they sign up anyway. They go in, they serve, they sacrifice, they love, they lift, they plant seeds. There’s a lot of devastation in Afghanistan and around the world. I hope that within that devastation, there’s also seeds of hope. There’s growth, there’s opportunity.

Matt Rascon: And this week, I spoke with Hamza Yaqoobi. He fled Afghanistan with his family and came to the US as refugees in 2002. Now he and his family are desperate to bring home his sister who is living in Afghanistan temporarily with her four and two year old sons, when all this happened in the last few days. And she is now stranded there waiting and hoping for a way back to Utah.

But just to confirm, you don’t want video portion on here. No. Talk about what the last several days have been like.

Hamza Yaqoobi: It’s been terrifying, horrifying, devastating, in a lot of senses in I’m Afghan that in itself is still sad and loss for the Afghans that are currently living there. Who knows what type of you know, there was a reason people didn’t like living under the Taliban rule. But then by the danger living under the Taliban. Well, now it’s a loss to human rights. It’s the loss to rights to women, you know, minorities, that minorities, religious minorities, you know, I am religiously Shia. It’s already a religious minority. And we’d be persecuted if we live there, right now. So, you know, the Taliban could say, you know, going to be better. But you know, as soon as the international community gives it legitimacy, they will just refer back, you know, your there’s already stories, you know, that, you know, they told Afghan woman that they can no longer work, they have to have their cousins or husbands or the men in their family to take their spots. So you could already see that happening. So imagine when seeing the international community actually goes, yep, you’re the government.

So but as far as us, you know, we haven’t slept in days, just because of what’s happening but also to on a personal level. My sisters and her two kids are over there. My mom has cried for the past couple of days. Just feeling grief. And, you know, all the sadness not sure whether she’ll make it or not, because you know, when it’s scramble everyone is trying to make sure they’re safe in there by herself. She had, you know, this escalated so quickly that she was unable to get out of there in time.

Matt Rascon: Were you born there?

Hamza Yaqoobi: Yes, I’m originally from Afghanistan. I came here, well, my family and I we fled Afghanistan during the Civil War. And then, you know, we lived in Pakistan for a while then we came to the United States as refugees.

Matt Rascon: How long ago was that?

Hamza Yaqoobi: We came here right around early 2002.

Matt Rascon: So that’s really when not long after the US went in. So for the last 20 years, though, I mean, since you’ve been here, I mean, things have been different right? With the US there. What are your thoughts on everything that’s happened on the US side as far as pulling out as quickly as they did and then ultimately leading to this Taliban takeover.

Hamza Yaqoobi: I, you know, I, at the moment, I just wanted focus on the Afghans, you know, things happen, whatever. But I will say this, you know, as an Afghan in the diaspora, and then hearing what the US withdrawn, Afghans do feel abandoned, and betrayed, you know, the US was all, you know, human rights. And all of a sudden, you know, instead of making sure everyone was evacuated properly, they evacuated themselves, they left. And I think, you know, obviously, the US couldn’t have stayed there, and you can talk to any Afghan citizen. And they agreed, you know, obviously, the United States can’t say that, but they could have prevented what happened. It’s a tragedy, it’s a disaster. The US had intelligence early on, you know, and they knew that, you know, the Afghan government was going to collapse. If they knew that, why didn’t they work on early to make sure the vulnerable Afghans were out? So I’m not saying, you know, it’s one part, but you know, it This was preventable, now, Afghans, they’ll have to suffer the consequences.

Matt Rascon: And talk a little bit more about your sister. So was she, she living over there with her children? And and what, what’s her situation right now?

Hamza Yaqoobi: So she’s there with her two children. As of right now, we have been in communication with the Office of Mike Lee and Senator Mitt Romney, they told us as anyone would, we had to fill out this repatriate form. So they know that there’s a citizen, she’s a United States citizen, and she’s trying to come back to America. Even if she wanted to go to the airport, you know, it’s chaos, it’s madness, she wouldn’t be able to, you know, she’s by herself. And she’s a woman, and, you know, who knows what would happen along the way. So, even if she got to the airport, she wouldn’t be able to get on a flight, because commercial flights are not working right now. So as of right now, we’re just waiting to hear back until she hears something that, you know, they can say, Hey, this is where you need to be this time, but it’s been an agonizing 24, 36 hours trying to ensure that she gets something. We filled that out the repatriate form yesterday, we’re just waiting now to get something back.

Matt Rascon: And you said, She’s, she’s a US citizen.

Hamza Yaqoobi: She’s grown up the last 20 years. So she came here with us on back then. And as I mentioned back in 2002. So yes, she’s a US citizen. And she just caught up in this mess.

Matt Rascon: You mentioned that you had spoken to her? What’s that conversation like? What are you hearing from her? Is there a lot of fear or kind of unknown?

Hamza Yaqoobi: There’s the fear of the unknown, of not being able to know she will make it out. Because again, it’s just chaos and madness right now. And she’s just, you know, worried about her kids. You know, as bad as it is being a woman over there, you know, you can’t do anything on demand, you can’t go outside, you can’t work, you know, a whole lot of things that woman can do publicly, you’d need a man for so. And she wouldn’t even care about that. But you know, the life that her two children would have to…that’s something that she won’t be able to bear. And so she’s afraid of the fate of the children would have to live in that country?

Matt Rascon: Yeah, I was gonna ask you, I guess you kind of answered it there. But can you talk about just I mean, we’re, we’re seeing those images of people just you know, trying to pile on these planes and get out of the country. What, why the urgency to get out of the country? What, what can you say about, I guess, living there under Taliban rule?

Hamza Yaqoobi:It, it, there’s a lot to say. Not doing everything you know, they ask, like you’re going to be executed. Afghans lived through Taliban rule before and they don’t want to do it again. They’ll be persecuted for any reason. You speak out against the government, journalists will be executed, activist will be executed. If you’re a minority, there’ll be executed. Afghans don’t want to live through that. You can see the pictures, we see Afghans storming the airport, sticking on planes. And while the plane is in air the associated on the horrific image of an Afghan person fall into his death while the plane was in midair, you know, it’s painful to see and illustrates that, you know, they’d rather die.

Matt Rascon: In your eyes, is the US doing enough? Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing to help protect and get people like your sister, a US citizen, out of the country?

Hamza Yaqoobi:I think there’s talks of it. I’ll say that, but no, it’s not being done as quickly as enough. Nothing is being expedited. There’s the SIV and then the priority to for applicants, but that’s based on ACF, USF emissions. What about the Afghans that need asylum? What about the Afghans that, you know, are vulnerable? No, the US is not doing enough. In that regard. Wherever it be, we need to expedite the process for SIVs, priority to expand our visa quotas for Afghans and include refugees, and we want the United States to demand other countries to allow refugees. And you could say that there. There should be like, you know, we could accept this number of refugees. Fine. What about the rest of them, and then that way, as other countries can take in refugees, because all of the bordering countries have blocked off their borders, Afghans can’t get out. And those are the Afghans that are most vulnerable.

Matt Rascon: Is there anything else you want, you feel like would be important for people in Utah, in the US to know about a situation that’s happening there, and what can be done to help in situation?

Hamza Yaqoobi: I would say outside of whether you think what happened is right or wrong, whether you believe in the US had to withdraw, whether you know, no matter what you thought about the political situation, at the moment, Afghans are starting to do whatever you can donate to fundraisers, Afghans are right now internally displaced. You know, this chaos wouldn’t have happened if the, you know, quick withdrawal and evacuation of the US and that’s what led to this chaos. I want to ask everyone right now is to call your representatives and ask them to allow more refugees allow more silence. Because Afghans are suffering, Afghan refugees have nowhere else to go.

Matt Rascon: When you look ahead in the near future, what do you see with your home in Afghanistan?

Hamza Yaqoobi: So I am part of this group called the Afghan American community organization. It’s a national organization. We’ve always the focus of the group is to split the diaspora and know how to be there for each other. Everyone in the diaspora had dreams of contributing, giving back to the country one day, and this situation has been devastating, not knowing if you’ll ever be able to see again and again, you know, it wouldn’t be safe to go back home. I think what our hope is no matter what, we just want to be there. For Afghans back home, whatever that may mean. Did that answer your question?

Matt Rascon: Yes. Yeah. And so you? Yeah. So now you’re kind of struggling with the reality that you may not see the country again.

Hamza Yaqoobi: Yes. And adding on to that, you know, we’re not losing hope. Again, because we’ve lived through this I, my mother and my siblings. You know, we came into the Civil War. And, you know, my mom was traumatized by this. Now, this is a trauma for them. But given all of that, you know, we know that the Taliban wants to take the Afghan country back to medieval times. But given all of that, we’re hopeful that, you know, we’re not going to give up on the Afghans that are there. Afghans in the diaspora. There’s a real survivor’s guilt right now. You know, we went through all of this, we are, most of us are refugees from the were being part of the refugee process back from the Soviet invasion back from the Civil War, even back from the invasion of the US. And I guess to make it short, we just want to make sure we’re still here for them. Despite what’s happening,

Matt Rascon: When was the last time you were there? Was that in 2002? Or have you been there since?

Hamza Yaqoobi: I was a baby. During the Civil War, my mom carried me in her arms. You know, chaos was surrounding us, but my mom carried me and my siblings were in tow. You know, we’re seeing all of this craziness around us. And I won’t share too much of like, the excessiveness  of what we were seeing that you’re trying to get out. But yeah, I was a baby. I was an infant. When I was born, I’ve never been back. Afghans, like we hold our, our identity so close to us. And that’s why this is devastating. Like we might not ever be able to go back again.

Matt Rascon: KSL-TV will stay on top of the unfolding developments out of Afghanistan. That does it for us, though, this week here on KSL+, I’m Matt Rascon, and we’ll see you again next week.

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KSL+: Utahns stuck in Afghanistan