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A Granddaughter Struggles To Get Her Grandmother Out Of Afghanistan

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As we heard, President Biden said that 90% of those who wanted to leave Afghanistan did. But among those who are left - the grandmother of our next guest, a woman named Nazow. We aren't using Nazow's last name out of safety concerns for her family. She says her grandmother has made repeated attempts to leave the country but never made it past the Taliban checkpoints. And one attempt ended with violence.

NAZOW: At this point, the Taliban are quite frustrated because this is the third time that she's showed up, so they beat her with the back of a gun. And she's an older woman. Her son got in front of it and tried to, like, prevent it from happening. They beat him, too.

CORNISH: Nazow is especially concerned because her grandmother has a U.S. passport, which may now make her a target. That passport should have guaranteed her safe passage out of the country if she could've gotten past the Taliban to the airport in Kabul. I spoke with her earlier today before Biden spoke.

NAZOW: There were four Taliban checkpoints before you reached the Panjshir patrol gate. And then inside of that was the American-manned checkpoint or gate. The State Department - they had told them that if you had a U.S. passport and you presented that to the Taliban, you should be good to go. They had made an agreement. So first checkpoint, no issues. Second checkpoint, no issues. Third checkpoint, no issues. Fourth checkpoint, my grandmother presents her passport, and the Taliban - the man, the Talib, says, you are lucky that I'm giving you this back - this passport to you. I should rip it up. Turn around. We're not letting anybody through. So they turned around, and they were sort of confused. They were like, well, they just told us that we were allowed to do this. Try again. At this point, the Taliban got a little bit frustrated, and they kind of, like, were a bit more aggressive. And they said, do not come back. Like, we're not letting you through.

CORNISH: Given all this, what was it like dealing with the State Department, especially after the attack on the airport? I mean, was there the sense then that a door had closed?

NAZOW: Yeah, I really do think that that was the case. They were telling us to shelter in place. They would call her in English when I explicitly communicated to them that she speaks only Pashto. My grandmother would get very worried, thinking that she missed her chance to, like, get herself and her family to safety. It was just an ordeal.

CORNISH: Where is your grandmother now? Where was she sent back to, so to speak? And what are your concerns there?

NAZOW: She's back in Nangarhar right now. And my concerns are - so she's an older woman. She was dragged all over the place - very confusing - was beaten by the Taliban. Her sons were in danger. She was in danger - seeing people on fire in front of her, guns shooting, everything. She already had a really bad blood pressure condition. She's so sick. Like, she's bedridden right now. She's - her blood pressure, like, went sky high. We're really worried that she may not make it. The drone strike that happened in eastern Afghanistan, that was my province, Nangarhar. It's because ISIS is - has quite a stronghold in my province.

CORNISH: So this home province is also where the retaliatory drone strike against the, you know, alleged Islamic State militants who did the attack on Kabul - that's where that took place.

NAZOW: Right.

CORNISH: And that's where your family is.

NAZOW: Yes. And they pledged to continue to fight ISIS. Well, that means that they're going to continue to drone strike the province that they sent my grandmother back to, a U.S. citizen, and my family who are in danger who helped the U.S. military for many years. The State Department didn't really know what was going on. I was talking to people in cubicles in D.C., so they often were very confused about the situation. I asked them which gate was the main gate because my uncle at one point was saying, like, oh, we're by the main gate. And I said, oh, what's the name? He says, it's in - I can't read it. And he's not literate, so he wasn't able to. And I said, OK, well, which one's the main gate? They're at that gate. They're like, we don't know which one's the main gate. And I'm like, how do you not know? You're supposed to be helping us.

CORNISH: President Biden is addressing the nation today. Is there any message you'd like to send him or anything you'd like to hear from him?

NAZOW: You know, time and time again, I've heard him say that he pledged to never turn his back on the Afghans that helped him. And my family helped them. He turned our back on us. And I understand that this has been a really long war, and a lot of people want out of it. And, you know, the Afghan people don't want to go through this any longer either, of course. But the way that this was handled has been just beyond my understanding. It's been such a catastrophe. Like, I followed every rule. Like, how did they leave my family behind? We got an email from the United States last night, actually, and it was this final email basically saying, like, here's some COVID regulations. We are in Doha right now, and we're pledged to continue to help from there and that all U.S. citizens should have a contingency plan that does not rely on the United States government. So I have no idea what to do at this point.

CORNISH: Nazow, I'm truly sorry you're going through this. And I want to thank you for just taking the time to share your story.

NAZOW: Thank you for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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