How the U.S. Helped, and Hampered, the Escape of Afghan Journalists

On Aug. 20, Joel Simon, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Mr. De Dora met via Zoom with Uzra Zeya, the under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights. They said they left the meeting convinced that the U.S. would do nothing to help.

They went looking for help elsewhere, and met the same day with the deputy director of the Qatari government’s communications office, Sheikh Thamer bin Hamad Al Thani. Mr. Al Thani asked for a list of the Afghan journalists it considered most in danger, then sent word that a convoy should assemble at a safe location near the Kabul airport. On Aug. 23, the Qatari ambassador to Afghanistan led 16 journalists and their families from the safe house to the airport. They flew to Doha the next day. Many of the other journalists on the list are still in Afghanistan.

“We didn’t see any policy here,” Mr. Simon said of the U.S. government’s role in the evacuation. “Our experience was that powerful media organizations were able to leverage their own relationships and use their own resources,” he said.

Others involved in rescue efforts had similar experiences, finding that formal U.S. government channels were at best useless and at worst an obstacle.

The leader of one rescue effort spoke with me on the condition of anonymity to reveal details of sensitive dealings with the State Department. On Aug. 29, this group leader emailed a State Department official to say that they were prepared to fly 181 people, including some Afghan journalists, out of Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in northern Afghanistan.

The group, whose charter was paid for by the Facebook Journalism Project, according to the email and a Facebook official, had gained approvals from the airline operating the flight, Kam Air, as well as from the United Arab Emirates, where the plane would land, and Mexico, the flight’s ultimate destination.

The group had also gotten the go-ahead from the Taliban, according to the email, which was shared with me, but that approval came with the condition that the U.S. government sign off on the plan.

Newyork time

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