Utah connections remain stuck in Afghanistan

Sep 10, 2021, 4:10 PM | Updated: Sep 12, 2021, 5:08 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — As American forces pulled out of Afghanistan under President Joe Biden’s self-imposed Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, assessments were underway to determine exactly how many American citizens, interpreters and vulnerable allies were left behind.

KSL-TV checked in with three Utah families we’ve recently highlighted. Of those three families, only one has managed to get their connections out.

Still stranded in Afghanistan is the family of a Utah veteran’s former interpreter, who they fear is at risk of being captured by the Taliban.

“Because of my service my family is at risk and they could be tortured, they could be captured,” said Fardeen, a former Afghan interpreter who now lives in the United States. KSL chose to only use his first name due to concerns about his safety.

Fardeen’s family was not able to get on an evacuation flight before the American withdrawal. He said they are now hiding in a safe house near Kabul.

“Today, I learned from the news and my brothers told me that the Taliban are going to the people’s house and forcefully, they are taking those younger kids with them to join them. They want to take them with them forcefully. And put the gun in their head and tell them, ‘OK, you want to go with me or I’m going to shoot them in the head,’” Fardeen said.

On Sept. 1, U.S. officials at the Pentagon said 124,000 people were evacuated under the President’s rigid Aug. 31 deadline.

“We have concluded our historic evacuation operation,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a briefing at the Pentagon.

Nevertheless, Utah veteran Braden Wayment and journalist Joshua Skovlund, a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine and Army veteran, were still looking for ways to evacuate Fardeen’s family from a safe house in Kabul.

“Fardeen is my family, we spent time in Afghanistan together,” Wayment said.

Wayment said Fardeen’s family made multiple attempts to get to the airport under failed instructions from the State Department.

“This has been one of the most aggravating and frustrating things I have been through in terms of paperwork. It’s not just go to the State Department and submit information. It’s trying to find someone on the phone, you have to know someone that works at the State Department and they submit it for you,” Wayment said.

Wayment said he even confirmed through Rep. Chris Stewart’s office that Fardeen’s family members were approved to get on an evacuation flight. “They wrote me back and said we have confirmed every member on this list was cleared by the State Department,” Wayment said.

Unfortunately, they were never allowed through the gate despite having all the right paperwork to board a flight.

“Countless times over the last two weeks they have made that dangerous trek to the front gate, only to be turned around,” Wayment said, “It was just something every single time.”

Sadly, Skovlund said he’s also heard about several other similar cases and estimates thousands of Afghans who helped the Americans were left behind including four of his own contacts.

“They’ve been hunted multiple times, they’ve been forced out of their homes multiple times. One I think is either dead or had his phone taken away or something, I haven’t heard from him since the (suicide) bombing,” said Skovlund of the four additional contacts he is helping.

Now, their desperation to get their friends out is growing as they consider other extraction possibilities.

“You name it — there’s people playing into the scenario of trying to get as many families out of there as possible,” Skovlund said.

“What happened to all the promises that the U.S. government made to the people?” Fardeen said.

And the U.S. estimates it left behind the majority of Afghan interpreters.

Here is the status of other recently highlighted stories:

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Utah connections remain stuck in Afghanistan