As Prince Wafa, an American citizen and resident of the San Diego area, waited with his wife in Afghanistan this summer, they couldn’t sleep.
They were running out of money. They worried about their future.
Wafa, a former translator for the U.S. Army, had come to San Diego in 2014 and became a U.S. citizen in 2019. The owner and manager of convenience stores, he had gone back to Afghanistan in July to wait with his wife while her spousal visa processed.
On Aug. 31, the U.S. ended a two-decade-long conflict in the region, withdrawing all military support and leaving Wafa and his wife, and hundreds of American citizens stranded in the country.
“We couldn’t sleep at night. We were terrified,” Wafa said. “We had to eat but money was running out. There were no banks to send money. A lot of things were adding to the problem.
“We didn’t know what our future would be, what would happen to us.”
With the help of Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican who represents the 50th Congressional District, the couple finally returned Wednesday to San Diego.
Wafa said Friday that he is able to relax for the first time in months.
“I don’t know how I feel — relaxed I guess. Fresh,” the 30-year-old said. “I’m relaxed, but the other part of me can’t rest knowing there are more people like me who are still in Afghanistan.”
Issa’s communications director, Jonathan Wilcox, said the congressman and his staff worked with State Department officials on a near daily basis to facilitate Wafa’s return and to expedite his wife’s visa process. They were able to get both Wafa and his wife to Qatar in late October.
Issa in a press statement Wednesday criticized President Joe Biden for the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.
“This one was personal. My team and I worked for months to ensure the safe return of Prince Wafa and his wife, and we were amazed by his courage and commitment,” Issa’s said. “His betrayal by President Biden and the almost limitless delays by this Administration were needless and shameful. He wasn’t the first American left behind and we are determined that he won’t be the last to come home.”
Mafa asked that his wife’s name not be used to protect her family who still reside in the Taliban-controlled country.
The departure of military support in the area on Aug. 31 caused chaos seen across the world, with video and images showing men, women and children crowding the airports and running after planes as they left the country.
Wafa said the U.S. State Department told him at the time to travel to the airport with their citizenship documentation to get out safely.
“That was a joke,” he said. “There was no way you could even get close to the gates. The lines were miles long. And how could it be safe to show our citizenship documents to the people we’ve been fighting with for years?”
So Wafa said he and his wife made calls, waited, made more calls and waited some more. He refused to leave without his wife.
By October, Wafa wrote a letter to President Joe Biden saying that he and his wife were still unable to receive assistance from the U.S. State Department.
“We were just as surprised as you when this country fell to Taliban control so quickly and we could not get to HKIA (Hong Kong International Airport) before attempts at evacuation became life threatening,” Wafa said in the letter. “Since then, we have waited patiently for assistance from the Department of State as directed, to no avail.”
Wafa said he reached out to Congressman Issa through the Afghanistan Evacuation Assistance portal located on the congressman’s website, not anticipating anything would come of it.
The congressman called him personally.
“He called and told me he would not stop fighting and that he was working hard to get me home,” Wafa recalled. “And he did.”
Wafa and his wife were eventually put on a commercial flight to Qatar in October, where they waited for her Visa to process.
Issa, who has been critical of how the Biden administration handled the withdrawal of military support, vowed to assist any other Americans still stranded in the region.
“Prince Wafa’s story will not go unnoticed,” Issa said. “No American should have to go through what he endured, and this should also provide a lasting lesson: Today, we celebrate the return of a brave American. But there is much more work to do, and many more Americans to bring home.”
According to the U.S. State Department, the office has directly assisted in the departure of 479 American citizens and 450 lawful permanent residents from Afghanistan.
A department spokesperson said the official number of those left behind fluctuates on a daily basis, as people change their minds about leaving, or as some U.S. citizens choose to go back, since many have family members in Afghanistan they do not want to leave behind.
As of Nov. 10, the State Department confirmed that all U.S. citizens who have requested assistance from the government to leave Afghanistan and have the necessary travel documents have been offered an opportunity to do so.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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