Afghan women who worked with the U.S. or international groups are frantically erasing any trace of those links for fear that they will be targeted by the Taliban.
By Lara Jakes
WASHINGTON — Even as they cling to hope of being rescued by the American government, Afghan women who worked with the United States over the past 20 years are destroying any hint of that association — shredding documents written in English, deleting social media apps and then burying their cellphones.
Current and former U.S. officials and activists described the desperate steps Afghan women have taken since the Taliban’s takeover of their country this week as a grim reminder of the heightened threat they face because of their gender.
Any attempt to contact American or international refugee agencies is a risk that most Afghan women are not willing to take, the officials and activists said. Even going to the airport in Kabul, to try to secure a place on an American or international flight overflowing with anguished Afghans, has become a life-or-death decision.
“The most dangerous place in Afghanistan right now is the Kabul airport,” Rina Amiri, a former official at the State Department and United Nations, said on Tuesday. She recounted stories of women and their families being caught between volleys of gunfire, or beaten by Taliban supporters, as they tried but failed to find a plane that would fly them out.
“It’s just damning that the United States and the international community have put these women in the position of having to risk not only their lives, but that of their children and families, in order to leave and save themselves and their families,” Ms. Amiri said.
Afghan men make up most of the interpreters and cultural officers who have worked for the United States over the 20-year war and, in turn, have been granted special access to immigrate. That is one reason relatively few women have been among the thousands of people who have been evacuated from Afghanistan over the past month — including more than 4,000 as of Wednesday morning since the Taliban’s takeover of the government in Kabul. Tens of thousands of visa applicants remain stranded across the country.
The Biden administration in recent weeks has expanded immigration and refugee resettlement programs to allow more Afghans — including women — into the United States. “We are going to do as much as we can, for as long as we can, for vulnerable Afghans,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said on Tuesday.
They include, in many cases, “forceful advocates for their fellow Afghan women and girls,” he said.
On Wednesday, the United States joined 20 countries and the European Union in demanding that the rights of Afghan women be protected, and pledging to send humanitarian aid and other support “to ensure that their voices can be heard.”
“We are deeply worried about Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement,” the countries said in a joint statement released by the State Department.
But leading lawmakers in Congress said that was not enough to secure even a limited number of women — politicians, human rights activists, journalists, soldiers and defenders of democracy — who could be at the top of the list of Taliban targets.
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