Marriage certificate and cell phone: how the wife of an American veteran fled Afghanistan
WASHINGTON – Whipped by the Taliban and pushed from behind by other desperate Afghans, marriage certificate in hand, Sharifa Afzali pushed her cell phone towards the American soldier barring the door of Kabul airport. On the other side was her husband, a US Army veteran in Oklahoma.
“I said, ‘Hey, see if he’s going to talk to me on the phone.’ I didn’t think he would, but he did, ”said Hans Wright, who begged the soldier to bend the rules for the visa-free woman he loves.
“And by the grace of God, he let my wife and my interpreter pass,” Wright told Reuters.
Afzali came out of Afghanistan, counting herself among the lucky ones.
An unknown number of U.S.-affiliated families fearing Taliban retaliation have been divided in the chaotic rush for flights before the U.S. evacuation operation ends by Tuesday, people involved in networks have said. hoc rushing to help extricate Afghans at risk.
With US President Joe Biden’s administration prioritizing holders of US passports and green cards, many people traveling to the airport through Taliban checkpoints with Afghan families were faced with a distressing choice: to leave relatives behind them or risk their own lives by staying, the people said.
“We have dealt with several cases of families who have been separated or have been told that only family members with a blue (US) passport or green card are allowed through the doors,” said Stacia George. , a former USAID official.
Some have had to leave children with U.S. citizenship rights to relatives, she said. Others have been successful in getting children into the airport with American family members or green card holders.
Joe McReynolds, another advocate for the evacuees, said he had documented a dozen cases of active-duty U.S. servicemen of Afghan descent or U.S. veterans in the United States struggling to extract relatives on visas from special immigration or in the SIV process.
“If the US soldier was over there in Afghanistan, we probably could have smuggled them through,” he said, adding that he was only aware of one successful case. He declined to provide details, citing security concerns.
Afzali’s escape was aided by her determination, luck, her husband, their marriage certificate and her SIV application.
Critical help also came from Ashley Sogge, a former US Army special operations officer who believes an email she sent to White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki was proved crucial to getting Afzali on a list at the airport.
” It’s good news. But unfortunately nothing reproducible, ”Sogge told Reuters. “It was really punctual.
Asked for comment, Psaki said those responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives were the men and women of the military and national security and State Department teams on the ground in Kabul.
Coaching, cuddling from a distance
Wright, of Grove, Oklahoma, retired in 2009 as a first sergeant after 24 years of service, and began working as a subcontractor advising Afghan special forces, he said.
He met Afzali, who worked for the contracting company, in 2017. When he changed jobs in 2019, she went to work as an interpreter, but in a different location.
“Our relationship is growing through SMS, email, Facebook,” he said.
They flew to Dubai in April to get married, but a Utah judge had to marry them in an online ceremony. The United Arab Emirates, Wright said, would not give them the documents “because I’m a Christian and she’s a Muslim.”
Their marriage certificate is signed by the lieutenant governor of Utah, he said. “It was very cool.”
But their marriage did not remove a bureaucratic hurdle: Afzali was unable to apply for a U.S. spouse visa because she already had an SIV application pending since 2018, he said.
Wright left Afghanistan in May hoping Afzali’s visa would be approved. But then came the rapid takeover by the Taliban and the heckling of tens of thousands of people demanding flights from Kabul.
“For the past two weeks, I couldn’t fall asleep,” Wright recalls of his early efforts to evacuate his wife. “A lot of my nights were spent chatting with the (US) military, with the Afghan military liaison.”
Sogge was connected to Wright last Monday by a US serviceman who saw one of his Instagram posts offering to help people extricate themselves.
She worked on telephones and ad hoc evacuation networks, emailed photos of Afzali’s documents and what she would wear to contacts inside the airport and followed up on the situation in outside via its networks in near real time.
She urged Wright to contact members of Congress, then last Tuesday told her to tell his wife to get to the airport. He and Sogge kept in touch with her by phone and text.
Afzali and the interpreter left around 8 p.m. It took them about 16 hours in the sweltering heat to reach a portal, Afzali flogged by the canes of Taliban fighters.
The American soldiers told the couple to go to another gate.
“She suffered injuries as a result of some beatings. There was a rush of crowds. I told him not to give up, ”Wright said.
She reached a second door. But American troops again refused to let her pass because Afzali’s visa had not yet been approved.
Sogge urged Afzali via text message to persist in advising Wright how Afzali should address the soldiers.
“I basically trained him,” she said. “What to say to her at the door, and to point out that she was the legitimate wife of a serviceman and American citizen and that she had her marriage certificate. I was like, ‘This probably has to be blunt,’ and that she’s a pending SIV case. ”
She told Wright to tell his wife to be “polite, persistent”.
It was then that Wright urged Afzali to hand over his phone to the US soldier.
With the couple safe inside, Sogge arranged for Afzali and the interpreter to board a flight. At this point, Wright said, his destination was unknown.
“She called me this morning,” he said on Friday. “She’s in Germany.
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