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WASHINGTON -The desperate plea was sent via text message from one refugee advocate to another trying to aid frantic evacuations from Afghanistan: "Just got a call for a young mom with her two young kids," it said, "She got through Taliban but being turned away by U.S. forces."
The Afghan woman, a U.S. permanent resident who was in Afghanistan to visit family, and her U.S. citizen children were hoping to board a flight from Kabul to rejoin her husband in North Carolina on Thursday following the Taliban's rapid takeover of the country.
It was her second attempt to leave Afghanistan after she and her small children were trampled in a stampede triggered by gunfire near the airport on Wednesday, advocates and the woman's husband said in interviews, requesting anonymity for her safety.
Thousands of miles away in the United States, Jenny Yang from the refugee resettlement agency World Relief had so far been unable to reach U.S. authorities.
Yang's last resort was a text message to Chris Purdy, a U.S. military veteran and project manager with the advocacy organization Human Rights First, hoping he could use personal government contacts to get her out.
Then they lost contact with the woman and her children.
The frenzied text messages are just one tactic in a sprawling improvised effort by current and former officials, military veterans, congressional staff members and advocacy groups across the United States to get vulnerable people https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/bidens-vow-airlift-afghan-allies-meets-ticking-clock-risky-rescue-2021-08-17 out of Afghanistan, often without clear guidance from the U.S. government. Many are Afghans who worked with the U.S. military in the 20-year war and fear the Taliban will hunt them down.
Desperation on the ground has been exacerbated by a lack of coordination between U.S. military forces controlling the airport perimeter and the State Department, which is notifying U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans about departure flights.
A State Department spokesperson said they are processing Afghans entering the airport as fast as possible, but that "congestion levels are high." The spokesperson said they could not confirm details of specific incidents.
After being injured in the first melee, the woman returned only to faint from a grueling seven-hour wait outside the airport gates. When she came to, she re-established contact with her husband and is now at home waiting for another opportunity to flee.
"Some of the most desperate people are going to be stuck, and will continue to be stuck, unless the State Department figures out a way to get this mess under control," Yang said.
New York-based Human Rights First has collected tens of thousands of names of people in Afghanistan who may need to be evacuated. The group shares the list with the State Department.