As thousands of people continue attempts to flee Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover and tightening grip on the country, a US Army veteran is desperately trying to help 100 Afghans currently in hiding who worked at a medical clinic she helped open as evacuations have accelerated in recent days.
Anna Talerico, 53, a physician’s assistant and retired military officer, served in Afghanistan in 2009. She returned to the country a few years later to help open American Medical Center – which provided medical services to Americans, Afghans and foreign nationals in Kabul, the capital. In addition, the facility provided physicals for special immigrant visa applicants.
The clinic has since been turned over to another organization that oversees its operations. Many of the workers – nurses and doctors – are women who face an uncertain future under Taliban rule, said Talerico, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident.
The Taliban is notorious for violating women’s rights.
“You have a whole generation who has grown up in freedom and a lot of women who have grown up in freedom and we’re just heartbroken that that could just be taken away from them overnight,” Talerico told Fox News.
The facility closed soon after the Taliban seized vast swaths of the country and took control of Kabul this month.
Taliban fighters entered the clinic on Aug. 15 and issued threats while confiscating identifying information, Talerico said, citing third-party reports she has received.
In an effort to safely evacuate the at-risk workers and their loved ones, Talerico and her nephew, Mario Talerico, along with veterans, former US government employees and former Afghan refugees, have launched Operation We Care: Global Afghan Evacuation in an effort to get them out of the country.
They set up a GoFundMe page with a $2 million goal to contract planes and provide other resources for the 100 workers and their families.
As of Tuesday, organizers have received more than $475,000 in donations. Mario Talerico, a Detroit-based corporate lawyer, has largely organized the fundraising effort.
“I’m trying to help in every way I can,” he told Fox News, citing his admiration for his aunt. “I’m doing what I can to take the logistical burden and organizational burden [off]. I’m here to help in whatever way I can and it’s all because of growing up and watching her.”
The mission became more complicated Tuesday when Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told reporters that the group will not allow Afghans on evacuation flights.
“The road, which goes to the airport, is blocked. Afghans cannot take that road to go to the airport, but foreign nationals are allowed to take that road to the airport,” Mujahid said. “We are not allowing the evacuation of Afghans anymore and we are not happy with it either.”
In the days since the Taliban took power – which prompted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country – Anna Talerico said clinic workers have pleaded for help via text messages.
“Last night I was beaten and injured by the Taliban while trying to get into the gate,” one message reads. “I need your help and assists [sic] or hence they will kill us all.”
Another reads: “Dear Anna: If you could save us please,” accompanied by a crying emoji.
The staff at the clinic did not work directly with the US government, leaving the workers ineligible for the special immigrant visa, unlike Afghans who worked as military translators or other allies, said Mario Talerico.
Logistically, organizers are trying to coordinate evacuation efforts for the workers and get them to Kabul’s international airport, where thousands of Afghans have gathered outside in an effort to board a military plane out of the country.
President Biden has decided not to extend an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, an official told Fox News. The announcement came after Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and CIA Director William Burns met in Kabul, and a Taliban spokesman said there will be “no extensions” to the deadline.
As of Tuesday, 4,000 Americans have been rescued. The US ramped up its evacuation efforts in recent days, getting roughly 21,600 people out of Afghanistan in a 24-hour period that ended early Tuesday morning. A senior US official is describing it as “an historic operation in scope and scale.”
Anna Talerico said timing is key to successfully helping the trapped medical workers.
“They’re in a desperate situation,” she said. “These are people that we know… they’re young. They’re enthusiastic and they’re feeling a little abandoned right now.”