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Iowa Afghans Fear For Families' Safety In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sidiqullah Khan)
Sidiqullah Khan
Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, on Sunday.

Iowans with family in Afghanistan have said they are glued to their phones, waiting for news from their family members in the country, which was recently overtaken by the Taliban.

Amber from Ames has an aunt currently in Kabul, near the airport. IPR isn’t using her last name to protect her family there.

She said it wasn’t surprising to her that the Taliban was able to take over the capital, especially after overtaking other major cities earlier as well as Kandahar and Herat, where Amber's mother and her family are from.

Her father has not been back to Afghanistan since he fled. Amber said it's because he said the country is not the same as it once was.

She said her family had been working on helping her aunt move to the United States with a visa. Now, she said she doesn’t know what’s going to happen.

“I feel anxious, but I think the biggest thing I feel is guilty because I live..I feel guilty because I live here in Iowa and I had the opportunity...like my parents had the opportunity to leave," Amber explained.

Amber said she is constantly checking the news and reaching out to her family still there to keep up with how they’re doing. Over the weekend, she and her parents were calling relatives, but when they didn't reply, Amber said her mind immediately went to the worst conclusions.

The uncertainty of it, she said, is one of the worst parts. She contrasted the phone calls to family Afghanistan with phone calls to friends in Urbandale. If her friend doesn't answer, "it could be as simple as like, 'Oh, they were just taking a nap' or 'they didn't have their phone with them and that's why they didn't answer the phone call,'" Amber reasoned.

But she said that's not the case with family in Afghanistan.

"When you don't get that phone call, or like if somebody misses a phone call, or if my aunt misses a phone call, I'm always like, wondering if she's still alive," she said.

Her aunt is all right as of the moment, but she will not leave her apartment. With all the stress, Amber said she’s had trouble sleeping.

“I’m exhausted. Physically and mentally exhausted and I’m not even there," Amber admitted. "I can’t imagine how my aunt’s feeling right now and like, it’s just so frustrating because it’s like, what can I do when I’m like thousands of miles away?”

Amber said she wants Iowans to stay informed about what’s going on in her family’s country and to use their platforms and privilege to make a difference. She urged people to donate, if they can, to Afghan relief organizations: Kalama Mutual Aid Collective and Ketab Relief Organization.

She also recommended reading about Afghanistan's news from local reporters and people with boots-on-the-ground experience there.

"Make sure you're informing yourself and amplify other voices, use your platform, people have the privilege to post whatever they want. So, you know, use that privilege to help others who don't have that privilege," Amber said.

President Biden delivered remarks Monday, defending his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines