An Afghan refugee who lifted his wife and toddler onto a C-17 military plane to flee Kabul tells the harrowing story of how they arrived safely in the US

Thousands of Afghan refugees fled Kabul after the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
Insider spoke to a 32-year-old Afghan national who arrived in the US recently.

He told Insider, "I was the lucky one."

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Salim, his wife and their 19-month-old son were in a taxi on the way to Kabul's airport hours after the Taliban invaded Kabul on August 15. They prayed that they would be able to leave Afghanistan.

The night before, he received notice that his Special Immigrant visa, which covers his 4 1/2 year tenure as a translator for the US forces, had been processed. An international-migration agency told him it would be another two weeks until he could book his flight out of the city.

Salim, 32, couldn’t wait. Salim was among thousands of people who sought to flee Afghanistan in terror from a Taliban government and flooded the airport on Sunday evening. It was chaos: The crowds overtook security personnel, and no pilots were found by airline workers. Salim heard gunfire and saw people running toward the runway. He quickly made a decision.

Salim, whose real identity Insider was not used to protect his safety, thought, "This is the right time to save my life."

His wife, who had been holding their son, was lifted onto the C-17 American military aircraft. He then climbed aboard himself. The only thing they had was their clothes and a small bag to hold their toddler.

The American soldiers told the Afghans who rushed aboard the aircraft to get out of the way and to sit down. The crew finally shut the door of the aircraft after a long, anxious wait.

Salim stated, "Everyone has hope." "People were happy. They were happy to cheer on the Americans, as they promised not to leave us behind.

On Sunday, Afghans gathered near the Kabul airport gate. Rahmatullah Alizadah/Xinhua via Getty

The Taliban's quick capture of Kabul by the Taliban triggered the collapse of the Afghan government. This was followed by a chaotic evacuation of Americans as well as Afghan refugees, amid the US military withdrawal of their 20-year war.

According to White House chief-of-staff Ron Klain, more than 37,000 people were evacuated from Kabul over the past eight days. Many more people still want to leave Afghanistan. Numerous US planes have been deployed to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees from Afghanistan to bases in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. They will then be taken to their next destination including the US.

Insider spoke to Salim just a few days after arriving at the accommodation near Washington's Dulles International Airport.

Transit to Qatar and Arrival in the USA

American C-17 aircraft made an emergency landing at a Qatari airbase. Salim's wife was also treated by doctors immediately, he stated.

The crowd received food, water, medication, diapers, and milk for babies among other things. Salim stated that the area was small but had bathrooms and air conditioning. They were tested for COVID-19.

The next steps were not clear and it took hours. Salim was nervous as he wondered if he and his family would be leaving Qatar. So he opened up.

Salim stated that everyone was concerned that the Americans might send them back.

The troops were relieved to discover Salim spoke English and asked him to translate for the Afghans. After being screened and vetted, they would begin the visa process.

On Sunday, service members board Afghan evacuees onto a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. U.S. Air Force/Airman1st Class Kylie Barrow/Handout via REUTERS

Salim stated that he felt reassured. He, his wife and their son flew to Dulles after five hours spent in Qatar.

Their temporary stay in Washington is only temporary. Temporarily, Afghan refugees are currently being housed at US military bases in Virginia and Texas. They will then be resettled in other parts of the country. The Pentagon also announced Monday the opening of a fourth base at New Jersey to handle the influx of refugees.

Salim stated that he hopes to move to Sacramento, California with his childhood friend.

"I was the lucky one"

Salim described his escape from Afghanistan in a chaotic fashion as lucky, while thousands of Afghans, including his family, wished to flee the country.

Taliban forces have tried to portray themselves as moderates since their takeover and claim they will ensure the safety of Afghans. However, history shows that they are not trustworthy and there have been reports of Taliban-led attacks in the past week.

Salim was seven years old when the Taliban took control of the country in 1996. They imposed strict Shariah law interpretations, which included banning television and music, forbidding education and prohibiting women from participating in school.

"The Taliban was bad for the people. Everyone lost jobs, no security, killing," Salim said. Salim said, "But, people are still dying right now."

The US has only eight days to evacuate additional Afghans and Americans, but President Joe Biden may extend the deadline if necessary. On Monday, a Taliban spokesperson threatened "consequences," if the US continued to remain after August 31.

It's a red line. "President Biden announced that they will withdraw all their military forces on 31 August," Suhail Shaheen (a spokesperson for the Taliban) said in an interview with Sky News. "So, if they extend them, it means that they are extending occupation when there is no reason for it."

Salim is still concerned about the fate of his brother and parents, a former Afghan special forces officer. They are currently in Kabul and face a difficult road out, he stated.

He said, "I was the lucky one." It's impossible. They don't know how they can be brought."