ATLANTA — It’s been two weeks since Valdosta resident Christy Vrandopulo talked to her fiance,’ “Noor,” an Afghan soldier who trained at Moody Air Force Base for about two years; he was in Kabul Aug. 12 as the Taliban began its takeover of the city.
“He called me and said ‘Christy, I don’t know what we’re going to do,’” Vrandopulo said. “Since the beginning of August, he was asking me to help him to get out. But then as the different [Afghan military] bases started to fall [to Taliban], he was trying to figure out how to get out. He called me on Friday and said ‘They’re surrounding the city, I think they’re going to take over the city.'”
Vrandopulo met the 26-year-old Afghan soldier in March 2020, and recalled Noor’s desire to fight for his country. He comes from an Afghan military family and as a child in the 90s remembered his family home being burned by the Taliban, and being inside a taxi that was bombed by the Islamic militant group.
“They hit a Taliban IED. Noor still has scars from this IED,” she said. “As a child, he always wanted to defend his country and protect the children, like he didn’t get protected. He wanted to be a savior for his country. He was so grateful to the Americans for training them and getting them U.S. visas.”
In the days leading up to Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, Vrandopulo said she felt morale was low among Afghan soldier as many had not been paid in months; That, coupled with the gradual departure of American troops from the country, she believes, left them feeling hopeless. After the U.S. departure from certain bases, the Taliban would ransack them trying to find anything left behind, she recalled of Noor's recounts.
“These are people they had trained with, that they looked up to…then to feel like the U.S. government had abandoned them, the morale was just not there,” she said. “These [Afghan soldiers] had this engrained instilled fear of the Taliban, and I feel like we’re first to blame them for giving up and throwing their hands in the air. I feel like there’s this psychological thing where they just froze since their U.S. friends and allies were no longer there with them anymore.”
While the soldiers have not been able to communicate much via phone, mostly for security purposes, Vrandupolo said she’s been in contact with congressmen and Moody Air Force Base representatives who have informed her of Noor’s safety in another country.
“It’s frustrating that as you know your fiancé is safe, you don’t know when he’s coming, where he is exactly. I just have to be hopeful that they bring him here soon,” she said. “Even though I haven’t gotten to talk to him since that last phone call. It’s so refreshing, and I can’t say enough about Moody Air Force Base keeping in contact and state reps for keeping us informed.”
While it appears that Noor has a safety net, that is not the case for his family and thousands of others who are still trying to depart the terrorized country.
“His brother went [to the Kabul airport] to help his cousin with small children load onto a plane and Taliban had the entire airport blocked,” she said, based on a conversation with Noor’s brother. “They wouldn’t let any Afghans through. He said they were whipping people and shooting in the air and retaliating through the crowd. They had their ‘golden ticket' to get out, but couldn’t make it through to the plane to get it. That’s really heartbreaking.”
Vrandupolo said she has applied for Special Immigrant Visa for several of Noor’s family members, but feels hopeless; Hamid Noori, who fled Afghanistan at the age of 8 during a previous Taliban takeover, now works in Atlanta as a social worker for Georgia Afghans and other refugees, and has been busy this week helping his family and others obtain an SIV to leave the country.
Noori’s family was in the parameter of the Aug. 26 suicide bombing and attacks in Kabul that reportedly killed 13 U.S. troops and dozens of others.
“They are fine right now, but I don’t now how long they will be,” he said. “Every night they move. They split up because sometimes they don’t know who’s the enemy or who can tell on you.”
The terror scene in Kabul is all too reminiscent to Noori, who spoke about the Taliban’s terror on the country in the 90s.
“That fear that everyone was running away from Kabul, it's like the same thing happening. It’s like a flashback. I was eight when Taliban captured Afghanistan and my family ran away to Pakistan,” he said. “When the U.S. took over the country I went back for a couple years and came to U.S. in 2009. We were so happy that Afghanistan was going to be OK and there would not be another war over there. We were thinking the government was going to be stable, the U.S. was going to stay.”
In speaking with his family in Afghanistan, he said he has learned that the Taliban has gone into homes to kill off anyone associated with the Afghan, American and German alliances and has blocked off the airport from citizens to get through.
“I feel so bad for the people, especially for children, for women, for people that trusted us, the United States,” he said. “They hate people that work with us and they’re now in the process of dying...One of my brother-in-laws, this is his fifth night staying [near the airport] with his children and wife without food, drink or water."
As of 9 a.m. Friday, the White House reported that the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 105,000 people.
Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff’s said his office has connected 2,000 requests for evacuation assistance with the state department so far and is offering Afghanistan evacuation assistance via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The situation is extremely difficult, but we will continue doing all we can to connect U.S. citizens, Afghan allies, journalists and others at risk with U.S. government and NGO resources,” Ossoff said.
Those seeking assistance to depart Afghanistan can find more information on the U.S. Department of State website at https://www.state.gov/afghanistan-inquiries