When the Afghan government collapsed last summer, Summia Tora, Afghanistan’s first Rhodes scholar, used her connections to get her father out. But when she tried to evacuate a longtime NGO worker named Hamid, his pregnant wife, and their young daughter, a suicide bomber intervened.

Transcript

A quick warning: This episode includes descriptions of violence. Please listen at your discretion.

[Sounds of crowds at the Kabul airport and an explosion.]

Hamid: My eyes were burning. I could not see anyone. My ears could only hear the crowds. I tried to open my eyes to know about my wife and daughter. I could not open my eyes. I shouted their names with my eyes closed.

Summia Tora: About a year ago, I met a man I’ll call Hamid. He and thousands of others were trying to leave Afghanistan after the government collapsed and the Taliban took Kabul.

Hamid and his family were navigating through the large crowd outside of the Kabul airport, trying to reach one of the checkpoints, when he heard a loud explosion.

Hamid: The resulting wave hit me in the face and threw me into the crowd.

Summia Tora: He was about 20 meters, or 60 feet, from the gate where the American military stood.

Hamid: I don’t know how many minutes or seconds I spent in there.

Summia Tora: Disoriented, Hamid didn’t know how much time had passed or what was going on until he was able to open his eyes.

Hamid: And realized that an explosion had taken place. At that moment, American forces began firing. Their shooting was so intense that I couldn’t lift my head up. The ground was full of blood and human organs.

Summia Tora: An estimated 170 Afghans were killed by the suicide bomb. Thirteen U.S. service members were also killed in the attack.

Hamid: My wife was missing among the wounded and killed.

Summia Tora: The explosion and ensuing chaos separated Hamid from his wife and 7-year-old daughter. He found his wife in the crowd and pulled her closer to him to protect her from the gunshots. But he couldn’t find their daughter.

Hamid: And I searched for her with my eyes very desperately. Until I found her among the crowd, screaming scaredly and covered with full blood and flesh. The shooting stopped a few minutes later. I ran to my daughter to hug her.

[Theme music]

Summia Tora: I’m Summia Tora, a human rights advocate. This is No Way Home, a production of The Intercept and New America.

In this four-part series, you’ll hear stories that were found, developed, and reported by Afghans like me, who have been forced into exile.

Our stories reflect what we saw with our own eyes and what we and our families have experienced firsthand since the U.S. military pulled out, the Afghan government collapsed, and the Taliban took over last summer.

This is Episode One: “Life and Death.”

[Theme music ends]

I’m going to tell you about how I met Hamid, but first I need to tell you a little bit about me and Afghanistan.

Last June, I watched from afar as the Taliban seized territory.

Deborah Lyons (United Nations Special Representative): More than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen since the beginning of May. Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.

On July 2, U.S. troops suddenly and quietly pulled out of Bagram Air Base, the sprawling outpost about an hour’s drive from Kabul that had been their main military hub since the war began 20 years earlier.

At the time, I was finishing a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Oxford, where I’d been studying since 2020 as Afghanistan’s first-ever Rhodes scholar.

Sitting in my room in Oxford, reading about territory falling to the Taliban and the deaths of Afghan security forces and civilians, it suddenly hit me that my family had to get out. We are ethnic Uzbeks, one of the minorities that has historically been persecuted in Afghanistan. The Taliban are primarily Pashtun, the country’s largest ethnic group. But it wasn’t just about ethnicity. My family would have been on their radar already, because of me.

I’d worked on a menstrual hygiene project for teenage girls in Afghanistan — the country’s former first lady, Rula Ghani, had encouraged it — and when I won the Rhodes scholarship, it made international news.

Mary Louise Kelly (NPR): When Summia Tora heads to Oxford University in England this fall, she’ll be making history — the first Rhodes scholar from Afghanistan.

Summia Tora: I was pretty sure the Taliban would eventually come after my family. Would my father be persecuted? At that time, we didn’t know for sure.

For my family and many other Afghans, this was an old story. Every time the government collapsed, or there was a war, you had to figure out all over again where you fit into the power structure and whether you could survive.

CBC News “The National” (Dec. 27, 1979): Good evening. Soviet troops fought pitched battles in the streets of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan today. It was part of a successful effort to replace a pro-Moscow president of Afghanistan with a new leader who’s even more pro-Moscow.

Summia Tora: In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and installed a communist government. Many Afghans wanted the foreigners out. Some joined the mujahedeen: so-called freedom fighters, funded and trained by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries aligned against the Soviet Union. And there began a decadelong war to force the occupiers to leave.

Greg Dobbs (ABC): Around the country, insurgents have captured their first provincial capital, a city in the northeast — a tremendous psychological blow to the government. And elsewhere, also according to Western diplomatic sources, guerrillas are mining highways and inflicting real harm on the Russians.

Summia Tora: After 10 years, the militants finally succeeded in forcing the Soviets out, but not before the fighting killed 1 million civilians, in addition to tens of thousands of mujahedeen fighters, Afghan troops, and Soviet soldiers.

CBS: The American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missile is credited with turning the tide of battle. Armed with the Stinger, the mujahedeen neutralized Soviet airpower.

Summia Tora: When the mujahedeen factions took Kabul in 1992, they couldn’t agree on how to share power. The factions were controlled by different ethnic groups — Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks — and they started fighting each other.

CNN: Kabul, Afghanistan. Once a city of roses and minarets, now a scene from hell [sounds of gunfire]. This is Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal.

Summia Tora: That’s when most of my family, and many others, fled. My parents went to Pakistan, where my siblings and I grew up as refugees. In the 1990s, when I was a kid, a group of fundamentalist religious students and clerics emerged from Kandahar province, which borders Pakistan. They became known as the Taliban.

BBC: There was a tremendous stir in Kandahar. We followed the crowds to a mosque in the city center. The Taliban had been holding an assembly of mullahs from all over Afghanistan. Now the results were about to be made public. A holy war was announced against the government of President Rabbani in Kabul. The head of Taliban, Mullah Omar, was declared to be the amir, or leader of all Muslims everywhere.

Summia Tora: After coming to power, they imposed harsh laws that brought some measures of security to Afghans, who were being robbed, raped, and killed by criminals and members of the warring factions. But the Taliban went on to impose their violent version of Shariah law on the rest of the country.

C4N: A year after they seized control of Kabul has raised further concerns about the plight of women. They remain strictly segregated and banned from schools and offices. Aid agencies are struggling to cope in a country which is also in the midst of civil war.

Summia Tora: My dad says he was one of a dozen ethnic Uzbeks to attend Kabul University during the Soviet-backed regime. He was not able to complete his engineering degree because of the unrest in the Afghan capital.

Sayed Tora: [words muffled]

Summia Tora: I can’t hear you. You’re blocking the mic. You should —

Sayed Tora: OK.

Summia Tora: Now I can hear you.

Sayed Tora: Do you listen?

Summia Tora: That’s my dad, Sayed Tora.

Summia Tora: What were you doing during the Soviet regime?

Sayed Tora: I was doing my internship, telecommunication ministry, in that time when the Russians invaded Afghanistan.

Summia Tora: My dad was doing a telecommunications internship when the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan. My mother grew up in a more remote part of the country and couldn’t complete her education because her family couldn’t afford it. But in Pakistan, my parents worked hard and made sure that their four children got the education they had only dreamed of.

After the U.S. invasion in 2001, my family lived between Pakistan and Afghanistan, traveling back and forth frequently. I left the region in 2014 to attend high school and college in the United States, returning for visits when I could.

Last year, as the Taliban was gaining ground, my older brother and sister were attending medical school in Pakistan. And my parents were back in Afghanistan, along with my younger brother. In late July, I began looking for ways to get my family to the United States.

My father — a longtime trader of fruits, nuts, and other goods between Afghanistan and the Middle East — had worked with a subcontractor to the U.S. Agency for International Development. I spent two desperate weeks trying to figure out which visas or programs might help him and gathered the required documents. Then, one of my classmates told me that he’d heard the Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were busy burning documents.

CNN: There were documents that were burned — classified documents. They were also getting rid of anything that could be used as anti-American propaganda, such as American flags or anything that had a seal of the U.S. Embassy on it.

Summia Tora: My father was still in Kabul on August 15, when I woke up to the news that the capital had fallen to the Taliban.

Al Jazeera: We’re just going to bring you these live and exclusive pictures here from inside the presidential palace. What you are looking at right now is Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace.

Summia Tora: I scrolled through the news on my phone. The Afghan president had boarded a helicopter and flown out of the country with his family. The Taliban were all over Kabul, including my neighborhood of Kart-e-Say. My mother and brother had made it out to Pakistan, but my father, my uncle, and many friends were stuck.

Some of my friends came over, and we started writing emails to everyone we could think of: the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, Congress, the Justice Department, members of the British Parliament, the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul.

Unlike thousands of other Afghans trying to leave the country and watching helplessly from outside, I had access to the Rhodes network, where everyone knew someone who knew someone. I was painfully aware of how lucky I was.

All this time, people were sending me messages saying things like, “I hope you’re OK.” I didn’t open any of them. I was scared. I thought, if I get emotional — if I cry — I’ll get distracted from what I need to do.

Recently, I asked my dad what he was thinking before Kabul fell.

Summia Tora: I remember we had a conversation, and you thought that there would be a peace deal happening between the government and the Taliban. That didn’t happen.

Sayed Tora: Yes, yes.

Summia Tora: How did you feel? Because — were you surprised when the Taliban just took over completely?

Sayed Tora: Yeah, we are surprised it has happened in a short time. We expected for six months, one year, the government and their military forces and other groups will resist Taliban. But unfortunately in a short time they gave up all things. And I have experience about Taliban. I understand them because I have experienced them in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul and other places.

Summia Tora: What do you mean by experienced?

Summia Tora: That’s when my father started telling me something he’d never told me before. It happened in 1998, the last time the Taliban was in power.

He was heading to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He happened to be traveling with the Red Cross. The Red Cross was heading there because the Taliban had killed an estimated 2,000 people, possibly more, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation.

There were also reports from the city’s neighborhoods like Ali Chopan, where women and girls were abducted and raped. Most of the people they killed there were Hazaras, an ethnic minority that has faced centuries of discrimination and violence in Afghanistan. The Red Cross workers warned my dad that he too could be detained and killed in Mazar.

Sayed Tora: I have been in Mazar-e-Sharif with Red Cross. In Mazar-e-Sharif, they killed people in Ali Chopan village in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. And I listened in my ear, they declared from National Radio of Afghanistan, Mazar-e-Sharif, they will kill all the people of Hazara ethnic. They say “tashayyu” up to their babies.

Summia Tora: They would kill Hazara babies too, he said. I knew I had to get my father out — not just for his safety, but also to protect my ability to speak freely about what was going on in my country.

We worked for days. One of my friends, an American Rhodes scholar, spoke to someone high up at the State Department. They told her my dad wasn’t a priority because he hadn’t worked with the U.S. military. I realized my father was not going to be evacuated. That’s when I sat down and cried for the first time.

Soon after that, I got a call from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic group I’d been working with on Rise, an educational scholarship for young teenagers. They told me they were organizing a charter plane, and they might be able to add my father to the manifest.

Summia Tora: I know it was very difficult for you to leave. There were times you didn’t want to leave, and I had to convince you to leave. Why did you end up deciding to leave?

Sayed Tora: Oh, because of the fate of my daughters and my sons. And I convinced to leave, but I have decided to be there, near to Afghanistan, and we should do something to convince the Taliban, to make resist [laughs]. We should not give up for them. Don’t leave our people. OK. But, I don’t know, I’m lucky I have a daughter like you. And they convinced me, and I decided for their fate — my daughters’ fate and my sons — I have to leave Afghanistan.

Summia Tora: On August 21, my dad got a call. He was told to go to the Serena, an upscale hotel in Kabul. People from the U.S. Embassy greeted him there. It was very organized.

They took him on a bus and through a gate inside the airport at night. A private charter plane flew them to Qatar and then on to Albania. My father had made it out.

The next day, a Taliban fighter showed up at his house, looking for him.

Summia Tora: Would you have stayed if I hadn’t convinced you to leave? Because you did face risks of being persecuted.

Sayed Tora: Yeah, yeah. I will go to maybe some areas there was no Taliban. And then I will take refuge to neighboring countries. Maybe I go to Tajikistan or Pakistan, somewhere like this.

Summia Tora: People heard of our success in getting my father out and started sending us names of others who needed help. The list grew longer and longer.

And that’s how I met Hamid.

No Exit

Summia Tora: Last summer, Hamid was living in Dasht-e-Barchi, a neighborhood of western Kabul. Like many who live there, he and his family are Hazaras: the ethnic group my father had mentioned who had been massacred by the Taliban the last time they ran the country. Hazaras have faced widespread discrimination and some of the most severe violence from the Taliban and other armed groups, like the Islamic State.

Hamid isn’t his real name. He worked for a French nonprofit organization, called Geres, that focused on climate and environmental issues. I can’t name him because he and his colleagues may still be in danger.

Sometime in August, I got a text message from an American I’ll call Michael. He works with families still in danger of being targeted by the Taliban, so we’re not using his real name either. Michael had lived in Afghanistan for a while and worked with Hamid. Now he was back in New York, and he wanted to help his former colleagues get out.

Michael: When I first went there, he was one of the first people to welcome me. And actually, he was one of the people that always kept an eye on your safety and making sure that you’re fed, you’re sleeping well, everything else is going well.

Summia Tora: At Geres, Hamid was a project coordinator, working with the government and NGOs.

Michael: The one thing that was almost seamless while we were there was the fact that we always felt safe. And we always had a destination; the destination was always ready for us. All because people like Hamid were laying the groundwork weeks before, days before. And I never understood how they kept up with all the work that we were doing, but it was really incredible.

Summia Tora: Michael wanted our advice about how to get Hamid and the other Geres workers out. We were able to get Illinois Democratic congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi to write a letter for Hamid. By this time, I knew a few people in the U.S. military and people working as security contractors who were trying to help Afghans.

Like my father, Hamid had lived through decades of war. Like my father, he believed that with education and hard work, and by trying to rebuild Afghanistan, he would be able to give his daughter a different life.

In mid-2018, after a decade working with national and international agencies in Afghanistan, Hamid and his wife left to study abroad.

Hamid: After completing our master’s degrees in late 2020, we returned back to country with full hope and plan to serve our community. But our optimism unfortunately didn’t last long, and the Taliban suddenly reached the gates of Kabul capital. That is why we planned to leave Afghanistan soon, as I had the experience of the Taliban regime in 1995. And also we were very worried that we will be the second target of Taliban as we collaborated with foreign agencies.

I sent a number of emails to all agencies that I worked with and asked them for help and assistance.

Summia Tora: He checked his email every minute, waiting and hoping for a response. On August 15, the day Kabul fell to the Taliban, Hamid was at home.

Hamid: Around 8 o’clock in the morning, a friend of mine called me and said, “The Taliban have entered Kabul. And the president and other government officials have fled the country.” I was very surprised. And upon hearing this news, my fear and anxiety multiplied. Actually, no one knew what to do and what would happen next. The situation was very insane, and we felt an experience — really helpless.

Summia Tora: After that call, Hamid went outside to look around, and all the shops were closed. Hamid anxiously scrolled through his emails, hoping that someone would reach out to help. Help had to be coming, right? Because Hamid has spent most of his life trying to rebuild Afghanistan.

Late that evening, his phone pulsed.

Hamid: A friend of mine called me at night and said, “Let’s go to the airport. All the people are leaving.” I said, “I do not have a visa, I cannot go anywhere with this.” He said, “People leave the country with electricity bills and vaccination cards, but you have at least a passport.” Sure, I have a passport. But I cannot go anywhere with this. I didn’t believe him, but later I noticed that he was right: People boarded the plane without a document and left the country, and many fell from the wings of the planes, disappeared, and died.

Summia Tora: Hamid wasn’t sure how to get out, so he decided, for the moment to go into hiding.

Hamid: One of my friends said, “It is good for you to relocate and change your place of residence at least.” So I moved to another part of the city, where I, my wife, and my little daughter to be safer. And then we chose a nickname for all us, not be easily identified by Taliban spies and militants as a person who worked with foreign agencies in Afghanistan.

Summia Tora: Hamid chose fake names for himself, his wife, and his daughter. He finally heard from Geres that he and his colleagues would be shortlisted for evacuation.

Hamid: They ask me to send my details and those of my family list quickly. Then they sent me a letter mentioning that I should print it out and take my family to airport and show them to French soldiers, and they will help us to get out of the country. So I printed out the letter and hide it in the bottom of my socks.

Summia Tora: In the middle of the night, they headed to the airport. Along the way, Taliban fighters beat and harassed him at various checkpoints.

Hamid: When we arrived at the first checkpoint, one of the Taliban soldiers pointed his gun at the taxi to stop and then asked me, “Where are you going?” I said, “We are going to hospital.” He motioned for the gun to go.

Passing through dozens of checkpoints, we arrived to a huge crowd called Camp-e-Baran in Persian, “Rain Camp,” and one of the entrances to the airport at the time, as if all the people had come there. The men and women were trying to get into the airport with their children quickly. It was crowded everywhere, with women and children standing in long lines with frightened and worried faces, and some sitting on the side of the road.

Summia Tora: Taliban soldiers were fighting and whipping people.

Hamid: They beat everyone. They shot in front of the people and called people, “You are infidels, mercenaries, and foreign spies.”

My daughter cried when she heard gunshots and loud noises. The only option that I had, I comforted her and lied to her that they are shooting films and making movies like the ones you have seen on TV before, it is not real.

Summia Tora: Hamid’s wife was three months pregnant, something none of us knew at the time.

Hamid: It seemed really impossible to walk through the crowd with a pregnant woman and a little girl, I was afraid my daughter would be crushed by people.

Summia Tora: Hamid had a letter of support from the French organization he worked for, the letter from Rep. Krishnamoorthi, and other documentation.

Hamid: And we were unable to enter the airport through the French forces because they didn’t pay attention to our letter and did not allow us to enter the airport.

So I tried to reach the American forces from the crowd, I got into the river full of garbage, and I showed the letter to an American female soldier. She took the letter and read it and then simply said, “This is fake. And you got it from Facebook.” She refused and also she didn’t let me to explain that this is not fake one. It is real.

One Final Attempt

Summia Tora: At 2 a.m. on August 26, I was in Oxford, glued to my phone. I had barely slept all night, sitting in the living room waiting to hear whether Hamid was going to try again to get into the airport. I kept scrolling through my WhatsApp, sending messages to figure out where he was.

He and his family had spent two nights outside the airport. They hadn’t been able to get in, and had finally decided, the night of August 25, to go back home.

At 8 a.m. Kabul time, my contacts at the U.S. military messaged me to say that Hamid might have a chance to get into the airport. So I scrambled to figure out if he and his family could make it there.

Summia Tora (voice memo in Dari): Can you please tell us via voice note what your plans are for today? Are you planning to go to the airport? Please let us know.

Summia Tora: I said, Can you please let me know via voice note what your plans are for today? Are you planning to go to the airport? Please let us know so that we can plan accordingly.

About 30 minutes later, I heard from Hamid. He said they were heading to the airport, going through checkpoints and hoping they’ll make it in time.

Hamid (voice memo in Dari): I am currently in the car going toward the location that you mentioned. But I am not sure if we will be able to make it or not, but we will try our best.

Summia Tora: My contact on the ground asked for photos of Hamid and his family; the soldiers at the airport gates needed to know what they were wearing. I asked Hamid to send details I could pass along to help them get through the gates.

Summia Tora (voice memo in Dari): Salam, it is good that both of you are going there together. Could you try to reach the airport by 9 a.m. as our guy/contact person is waiting for you? Please make sure to take a photo showing what you and your family are wearing and send it to us.

Summia Tora: I looked at the photos Hamid had sent. This was the first time I’d seen their faces. He and his wife and their daughter were standing under the scorching sun outside the airport, holding colorful umbrellas. It was 86 degrees. They wore traditional Afghan clothes, and their eyes were bloodshot and tired. It was all too real. I had taken responsibility for their lives.

I waited to hear back from Hamid. I would later learn that he had been stopped again at the Taliban checkpoints. They reached the airport. Thousands of people were standing outside. I looked again at the photo they’d sent: His daughter was smiling — but there was fear in her eyes.

I tried to imagine what it must be like for this little girl seeing her parents totally helpless. I thought of my own childhood trips with my family across the Torkham border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Being at Torkham as a kid was scary. The border was chaotic, and if you got separated from your family, you were lost. American soldiers patrolled that border, too — somehow, they were always the ones who decided who could go into and out of my country.

Survivors

Summia Tora: We tracked Hamid’s location minute by minute, relaying to him instructions on how to reach the gate by speaking to U.S. military people and trying to ensure that when they got there, someone would be able to help them get inside.

My friend Jhamat Mahbubani was at school with me. He took the lead in guiding Hamid and his family — and several of his colleagues, also traveling with their wives and children — toward the gate and the U.S. Marines. Hamid sent Jhamat a voice note, asking for some assurances.

Jhamat Mahbubani: Something along the lines of like, “You need to promise us that if we get to the gate, your contacts will come out and get us. Because if you go any further, there’s a real chance our kids will die.” Their kids are like 5, 9 years old, things like that. And he needed that assurance. And this is a man who had been, you know, unsuccessfully tried to do this for three previous nights, right? And we really believed this was the chance to get out. It was the best chance we had seen over the past week.

So we spoke to our U.S. Army contacts about it, about kind of giving this assurance. And they said something which I thought was quite a good assessment at time. I mean, they were not gonna give any blanket assurance or something, but I think the response from one of them was, “You need to ask the family whether the risk of staying in Afghanistan is greater than the risk of trying to escape here.”

Summia Tora: Hamid and his family pushed through the crowds in a sewage canal until they were 100 meters from Abbey Gate. Hamid had the congressional letter we’d helped him get. He was trying to show it to the soldiers outside the airport.

It seemed like they had a chance. They were only 30 meters away from the gate now, and closer to reaching an American soldier who, according to our military contacts, could get them inside the airport.

That’s when we lost them.

On WhatsApp, when a message is sent, a checkmark appears beneath it; a second checkmark shows up when the message is received. All of a sudden, late on the afternoon of August 26, Hamid stopped reading our messages.

There was no second checkmark.

Jhamat Mahbubani: But I don’t remember thinking that they had made it at any point. So I just remember being in this twilight zone, like waiting for an update, they’re so close. Signal was terrible.

Summia Tora: Thirty-three minutes later, our contacts messaged to say that a bomb had exploded near where Hamid and his family had been standing.

Jhamat Mahbubani: They text and they say, “We’ve heard a bomb and possibly shooting has happened on the site.” So immediately, your heart is sunk, to absolute zero. The thought that they could have come to harm is completely devastating.

Summia Tora: We asked for the exact location. Our U.S. military contacts sent us a 50-meter radius of the blast, based on the information they had at the time. We thought Hamid and his family had to be hurt, if not dead.

His phone wasn’t working. They asked us to keep trying.

Jhamat Mahbubani: And I remember looking through Twitter — there were photos taken at the site of the bombing — to look through the photos of the dead, to see if any of them looked like Hamid or his family or the kids. And there were like videos of people being like helped out and so on. And I was checking the face of everyone, and we were desperately trying to reach them.

I honestly thought we led them to their deaths. And it was the worst. I felt like [we had] completely failed them.

Hamid: Suddenly a loud explosion of smoke and dust rose, and the resulting wave hit me in the face and threw me into the crowd. I held my breath for a moment, for a second; my eyes were burning. I could not see anyone. My ears could only hear the crowds, but I still did not know what happened. I tried to open my eyes to know about my wife and daughter. I could not open my eyes. I shouted their names with my eyes closed.

Summia Tora: At 7:24 p.m., our U.S. military contacts wrote to say that Hamid and his family were safe. They were leaving the airport.

Hamid’s wife and daughter had been so close to the explosion that they’d been covered with blood and gore from those killed and wounded all around them.

Jamila (translated voiceover): I felt like I was in a bad dream. I can’t really remember what happened. It was my husband Hamid who got me out of there.

Summia Tora: They made their way home.

Hamid: After the crowd subsided, we left the scene in clothes full of dirt and blood and bare feet, but we were still afraid that the second or third explosions would take place. We still do not tell the truth to our daughter, but she still asks questions about murder and human blood that she has seen there, for which we do not have a satisfactory answer to her.

We were unable to leave the country, and we still live far from the public eye and in fear.

Summia Tora: Next time on No Way Home.

Leila (translated voiceover): I couldn’t sit down to take off my shoes, but I could feel that my toenails were coming off. I had to take care of my children. I had fallen in several places, and my eyes were closed. All I could hear was my daughter and son crying. 

Mir Abdullah Miri: When the Taliban seized Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Leila’s husband, Aziz, quickly started planning the family’s exit from the country. Their attempt to leave would irreversibly change their lives — and mine. 

Leila (translated voiceover): Aziz said, “Had I known you are like this, I wouldn’t have married you.” He even told me, “Even if I get killed, I won’t return home. Bury me in Iran next to my father’s grave if I die. I won’t return to Afghanistan.”

Summia Tora: No Way Home is a production of The Intercept and New America’s Afghanistan Observatory Scholars program.

This episode was written and reported by me, Summia Tora.

Our executive producer and editor is Vanessa Gezari.

Supervising producer and editor is Laura Flynn.

Candace Rondeaux is the director of Future Frontlines Program-New America and project editor.

Ali Yawar Adili is the Afghanistan Observatory Project Coordinator.

Jose Olivares also helped with production.

Rick Kwan mixed this episode. Zach Young composed our theme music. Legal review by David Bralow. Fact checking by Emily Schneider.

Awista Ayub is the director and project manager of New America’s Fellows Program.

Voiceover in this episode by Humaira Rahbin.

To learn more, visit theintercept.com where you can find transcripts and show art. Philipp Hubert is our visual designer and Nara Shin our copy editor.

Roger Hodge is the editor-in-chief of The Intercept.

If you want to give us feedback or have any questions, email us at [email protected]

Thanks, so much, for listening.