But now, in the words of one student, “I don’t dream and hope for my future. My future is not secure in Afghanistan, and it looks very bleak here in Afghanistan.
Student A, whose name CNN does not use for his safety, is among hundreds of AUAF students who have been left behind during the US military evacuation efforts, despite an effort to get them to airport prior to the departure of all US forces.
A month after the end of the US military evacuation, AUAF students are scared, monitoring their movements for fear of retaliation from the Taliban. Although Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated that AAUF partners will be among the priority groups for the evacuation going forward, the students CNN spoke to are still waiting for clear answers on if and when. they will be able to leave Afghanistan.
“More and more people are depleting their savings accounts day by day,” said a student CNN calls B, who described an atmosphere of “hunger”, “fear” and “uncertainty” in Afghanistan.
“The situation is getting worse by the day and we are losing hope,” said another student, C.
A fourth student, D, told CNN: “I sometimes check Twitter and see tweets made by the Taliban in which they talk about our university. To be honest, that really terrifies me.”
“All the crimes the Taliban have committed against education over the years make me and my classmates a prime candidate for prosecution under their rules,” they said.
“We are still waiting for what will happen to us,” added D.
“A huge obligation”
Leslie Schweitzer, president of the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan, said there were more than 3,000 students, staff and their families left in the country, with whom they communicated “all the time.”
“If we have some form of safe travel, we will get in touch with them. We have a constant stream of questions from people at risk in their homes, who cannot leave their homes,” she told CNN. “We have also had reports from some of the students who were evacuated that the Taliban entered their empty homes, looking for documents etc. It is really important for us to keep in touch with them.”
“We have a huge obligation to all AUAF because each of these people involved with us Afghans was a risk from day one, just because of who we are, just because it’s the University. American from Afghanistan, we teach in English, it’s an American and mixed form of education, ”she told CNN.
AUAF opened in 2006 – its establishment was announced by then-first lady Laura Bush during a trip to Kabul the previous year. For more than a decade, the US government has invested more than $ 150 million in the university, which has become one of the best in the country and has attracted the best students. It had survived a deadly terrorist attack in 2016 by suspected Taliban militants, and reopened the following year.
The Taliban seized the AUAF campus almost immediately after the US military completed its withdrawal in August.
“They had their flag on campus watchtowers on the very first day of Kabul’s fall,” said student D.
Student A told CNN that “hundreds” of Taliban are now on campus that AUAF students once viewed as a second home.
Schweitzer said the Taliban shared photos of themselves standing “on the stairs inside the Women’s Center, a 70,000 square foot building dedicated to the economic empowerment of women,” he said. she declared. “The irony of this is quite extraordinary.”
Student D told CNN that while they are “physically fine, I cannot deny the fact that the situation has affected me and my classmates mentally on a different level.”
“AUAF was the only place where we Afghans had access to world-class education. I had many goals, and studying at AUAF made me feel a little closer to my goals every day, ”they said.
“The thought of not being able to study there anymore and not being able to see the campus anymore really hurts me,” said D.
Schweitzer stressed that the AUAF was not closing, telling CNN that “there had been an overwhelming response from the students who said, ‘We have to keep going. We must continue our education “.”
Classes are continuing online, but some students have told CNN this is not a viable long-term option for them due to connectivity issues, power shortages, and the cost of internet access.
Schweitzer said university funds in Afghanistan are frozen and they “are making very serious and difficult decisions about how we can cut some costs so that we can manage with much less funds.”
“Very difficult for anyone to bear”
Natalie Gonnella-Platts, director of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, told CNN that the United States and the international community have a responsibility to support Afghan students “whether they are in Afghanistan. or whether they are outside of Afghanistan. . “
She pointed out that nearly half of the students are women and that educational institutions like AUAF have “directly contributed” to the gains made by women in Afghanistan over the past decade.
“Education has such an influence on development, prosperity, peace, stability, equity,” she said.
Schweitzer noted that “part of the value of this university was the coming together not only of men and women, but it was the bringing together of ethnic minorities and people from different provinces.”
“It’s a terribly important part of it all, learning to live together, learning transparency, critical thinking,” she said.
About 150 students were able to exit during the US military evacuations, Schweitzer told CNN, and in the final days before the US presence on the ground in Afghanistan ended, a group of AUAF students attempted to gain access at Kabul airport to evacuate. However, the situation became too dangerous and they had to turn back.
At a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken said “yes” when Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware asked him if the State Department was prioritizing AAUF partners for the evacuation. In early September, Representatives Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, and Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky, called on Blinken to “grant a presumption of eligibility to AUAF students and staff for the P-2 designation and to do everything in your power to assist in their safe departure from Afghanistan.
However, the State Department has said it will continue to prioritize U.S. citizens who wish to leave Afghanistan, and it is unclear when large-scale resettlement efforts for Afghans at risk may resume.
Student C told CNN that many AUAF students and staff do not have valid passports and the Taliban does not issue passports. The US government currently has no field presence in Afghanistan.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN that “some AAUF students have left Afghanistan” but “for security reasons we cannot provide further details on these departures or the number remaining students “.
“We have been in regular communication with the administrators of the American University of Afghanistan regarding their efforts to evacuate the remaining students and staff still in Afghanistan,” they said.
However, the uncertainty of what to do next “is very hard for anyone to take,” in the words of student B.
“It’s very difficult because we don’t know anything about the future,” they said.