An escape from from Taliban rule and a path to Colorado were within sight for Ahmad Khalid Rahin and 17 members of his family when the blast from a suicide bomb attack at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, tore through their plans as quickly as shrapnel tore through their flesh.
Rahin, 44, and two of his cousins — one a young man who was in the Afghan Army, another who worked for Afghanistan’s police force — were killed. At least nine others in the family, including several young children, were gravely wounded.
The attack happened on Aug. 26 as a flood of Afghans, especially those who had worked for or aided U.S. or other Western forces, tried to flee their country as the Taliban took control with American troops departing.
The bomb left the family bloodied. There were metal fragments embedded in family members’ heads and legs and even in the spines of two children.
“They all got shrapnel,” said Ella Nabiyar, Rahin’s sister, who lives in Broomfield. “Everywhere.”
Five children from the family and one adult are at Walter Reed Medical Center where they are still being treated for their injuries. But at least seven other family members remain in Afghanistan, including two of Rahin’s daughters.
Now Nabiyar, who has lived in the U.S with her husband, Joe, for two decades, is fighting to bring the rest of her family to America and Colorado.
The situation is a reminder that although American troops have pulled out of Afghanistan, there are still Afghan nationals who aided the U.S. who haven’t gotten out.
Ahmad Khalid Rahin was a doctor who worked with the United States Agency for International Development. In an application for a special immigrant — or SIV — visa, Ella wrote that her brother had been threatened by extremists for helping Westerners.
“He was right there at the gates of freedom and the terrorists took him,” Joe Nabiyar said of his brother-in-law.
Two Democratic members of Colorado’s congressional delegation — U.S Rep. Joe Neguse and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet — and an immigration attorney in Glenwood Springs are battling to get the family members who remain in Afghanistan to the U.S. The family had already cleared in an initial screening by U.S. troops when the bomb exploded.
“Our office supported the Nabiyar family in their efforts to help numerous family members evacuate Afghanistan,” Kate Oehl, a spokeswoman for Bennet, said in a written statement. “Our office continues to work with the family on their additional needs.”
The Nabiyars say their family members were close to the 13 American military members killed when a man detonated a 25-pound suicide vest on Aug. 26. As many as 170 were also killed and many wounded. Authorities say the man was linked to the terrorist group ISIS-K.
Gruesome video from the scene shows the Nabiyars’ loved ones among the dead, dying and gravely injured in a canal along an airport perimeter wall. Half of the family had already scaled the wall separating them from the airfield and planes waiting to evacuate people when the explosion happened. Others in the family were in the process of climbing it or waiting their turns.
A photojournalist captured a photo of Ella’s sister and niece, their faces covered in blood. One picture taken the day of the blast may have been of Ahmad Kalid Rahin’s near-lifeless body being carried to a hospital.
“From what I see, it’s just overwhelming,” said Jennifer Smith, the immigration attorney working for the Nabiyars. “The communication and information is really hard to process and understand, even for attorneys. Something that sounds simple, like applying for a humanitarian parole visa, is filled with challenges.”
Ahmad Khalid Rahin, a married father of six ranging in age from 4 to 21, wanted to get his family out of Afghanistan to ensure their safety, but also to secure their future. His oldest child, a daughter, was a medical school student when the Afghan government collapsed. The Taliban is notorious for its treatment of women and girls, who in the past were denied an education.
Ella lived through Taliban rule herself before coming to the U.S.
“Life was miserable,” she said. “Life was bad. People didn’t have jobs. There was no school. Nothing. I was lucky to marry (Joe) and I was out of the country.”
But she never tried to get her brother and the rest of her family out of Afghanistan. It didn’t seem necessary once the Taliban was weakened by the U.S. military’s entrance into the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“To be honest, they had a good life in Afghanistan,” she said. “He was a doctor. His wife was a teacher. His oldest child was in the fourth year of medical school.”
But the outlook rapidly changed when American troops left the country and the Taliban took back control.
Smith, the immigration lawyer, said it’s still possible to get people out of Afghanistan despite the departure of U.S. troops. But it can take months for evacuees to arrive in America. One of the injured children at Walter Reed is the young daughter of Ella Nabiyar’s sister, who is still in Afghanistan.
“If your whole family is together and you’re sitting at a base together, it’s a little easier,” Smith said. “But when you have a 10-year-old kid at a hospital, patience is not something you have.”
“We don’t have three months,” Smith added. “They need to be with their parents.”
Smith and the Nabiyars are hoping that’s where Bennet and Neguse, and potentially other members of Congress, can step in and speed things along. Last week the Nabiyars learned that their family members being treated at Walter Reed will get federal medical insurance and that the U.S. government will help them get housing. But there’s still more need.
“We need help,” Joe Nabiyar said. “We need the congressman and the senators. SIV visa, to my understanding, it stands for special immigration visa. How can you say these are not special?”
Ultimately, the plan is for Ella’s extended family to come to Colorado. The children injured by the bomb will need long-term medical care. The Nabiyars believe they can provide a support network for their relatives in the Denver area.
The Nabiyars hope the situation can be resolved quickly.
“Every day,” Joe said, “things are getting worse and worse in Afghanistan.”