Former US General makes it his mission to help vulnerable Afghans evacuate

People line up as they prepare to show their documents to US troops outside the airport in Kabul on Aug 26, 2021.
People line up as they prepare to show their documents to US troops outside the airport in Kabul on Aug 26, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (NYTIMES) - Since the Taleban captured Kabul on Aug 15, Lieutenant-General John A Bradley, a retired Air Force officer, and his wife, Jan, have spent nearly every waking moment submitting reams of paperwork to various government agencies to help about 500 Afghans trying to evacuate the country.

So far, only one family they have helped has made it out.

"Nothing is working," Ms Jan Bradley said Thursday (Aug 26). "It's a broken system, and it's heartbreaking."

The couple's frustrations reflect the broader challenges facing those who once helped Americans and those who are now in turn trying to help those people. With President Joe Biden's Aug 31 withdrawal deadline fast approaching, many Afghans are desperate to get out.

In 2008, the Bradleys founded the Lamia Afghan Foundation, a non-profit group, to help people in Afghanistan. Necessity has turned it into an impromptu refugee resettlement organisation.

Mr John Bradley served in the Air Force for more than four decades before he started the foundation, which he said has built seven schools for girls and distributed 3.5 million pounds of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

The foundation is named for a young woman whom Mr Bradley met near Bagram Air Base while he was in the service.

"I think she's under threat because her name's on our foundation," Mr Bradley said.

Lamia's family is still in Afghanistan and is one of many the Bradleys are trying to help.

That is never easy on the best of days, and Thursday was not the best of days, especially in Kabul.

In the morning, Mr Bradley got a phone call from a young Afghan American woman in Virginia whose family had been working with the foundation.

She told him her brother had gone to the Kabul airport with his wife and three children that day to try to secure a flight out of the country, even though they had not yet been approved for one.

The Bradleys had submitted paperwork to the Defence Department requesting a noncombatant evacuation for the family.

They also provided the young Afghan man with copies of Mr Bradley's redacted passport and driver's license, as well as a letter on his military letterhead to present to guards at the airport.

On Thursday, the whole family was standing near the Abbey Gate, a main entry to the international airport, when an explosion tore through the crowd. Dozens were killed, and many more wounded in the terrorist attack.

The young woman, who declined to be interviewed, initially thought that most of her brother's family had been killed, the Bradleys said.

But over the course of the day, and with the couple's help, she learned that her brother and his wife had survived the blast. As of Thursday evening in the United States, however, the family had not found their two younger children.

"We don't know anything on their status: whether they are hurt, killed or someone took them away to help them," Mr Bradley said. "But we are thrilled that it wasn't quite as catastrophic for the family as we initially thought."

Mr Bradley said he hoped that his charity could resume something close to normal operations once conditions on the ground calm down. And he said he would keep up his efforts to get people out, hopeless as it often feels.

He also said he understood the rationale for leaving Afghanistan, but took issue with the way the Biden administration carried it out.

"I don't know why it wasn't started earlier," Mr Bradley said of the evacuation. "That's the baffling thing to me, and I'd love to have an answer someday on that."