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Rabu, 01 September 2021

An Afghan soldier loves an American nurse. War, distance and the Taliban keep them apart - ABC News

The first thing that caught her eye was the soldier's uniform, an unusual marbling of green, brown and black, as he crossed the campus of Fort Benning, a US military base on the Georgia-Alabama border.

It was an autumn afternoon in 2012 and she was there with her teenage son, who was attending a boot camp, when they struck up a conversation in the canteen.

He was tall, handsome, 18 years her junior, and already a star recruit destined for a career in Afghanistan's elite special forces.

She was a nurse's assistant from Gladstone, a suburb of Kansas City, who had grown up in a navy family and spoke with a southern drawl.

They swapped phone numbers and the soldier made a simple request. When he returned to Afghanistan, would she stay in touch to help him with his English?

Her answer came without hesitation: Yes.

"He wanted to tell me all about where he was from and I was really interested in learning more about it because, you know, our guys were over there."

Love blooms between the soldier and the nurse

As the years passed, the pair stayed in contact, growing close even as their lives continued in parallel 12,000 kilometres apart, he in Kabul and she in Missouri.

Her husband died and the soldier's marriage broke down. Birthdays came and went, and his nephews grew several shoe sizes.

They would speak two or three times a week over video call and text message about the war, their families, their lives.

She would often catch glimpses of life in Kabul: The soldier's young nephews gleeful in the background, or him rushing outside onto the street in search of better mobile signal.

Some days, he would ring her sounding flat and defeated.

"He'd just message me, 'Hey, pick me up.' And I'd just send him something funny, a stupid cartoon or something," the nurse says.

Over time, with her help, the soldier's English improved and he was duly assigned positions working alongside foreign troops from Britain, the US and Australia.

A soldier with bullet bandoliers strung across his chest
The soldier worked with British, US and Australian forces as he rose through the ranks of the Afghan army. (

Reuters: Finbarr O'Reilly

)

"They went on missions with us and they worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghan forces. They built our army," he says.

The pair talked about plans to meet, but the timing never seemed to work in their favour.

He was rising quickly through the ranks of the Afghan National Army and embarking on more and more dangerous missions.

The war was changing too.

By mid-2021, the Taliban had begun their march across the country, sweeping rural outposts and small towns as they made their way steadily towards the glittering prize: Kabul.

The couple perhaps weren't ready to admit it, but they were falling in love, divided by years, continents and a two-decade long war.

The Taliban encroaches

One day in July, the soldier had hung up on their regular call when a rocket detonated close to his vehicle outside the presidential palace in Kabul.

The force of the blast whipped his head violently against the glass, dazing him.

 Taliban fighters stand in the back of a military vehicle while others stand guard at a checkpoint.
The Taliban are now in charge of vast swathes of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul.(

AP: Abdullah Sahil

)

It was the holy Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha, and inside the palace walls, president Ashraf Ghani — by that point in his final weeks in office — was captured by television cameras praying on the lawn as security rushed to the scene of the explosion.

The soldier immediately rang the nurse back, audibly shaken. The vehicle was damaged but he was largely uninjured.

She told him to ice the wound and to go home.

In the days leading up to the fall of the capital, the soldier's video calls became less frequent and more urgent.

There was a feeling between them, even if they didn't want to linger too long on it, that each one might be their last.

Finally, she asked him what was going on.

"They're on my doorstep," he replied bluntly.

"And they will kill me."

The soldier tries to escape 

The day the Taliban arrived in Kabul, the soldier was in his office when a colleague burst through the door to tell him Afghan troops were discarding their uniforms and fleeing.

He looked down at his own uniform, the mottled green and brown with the tricolour patch on the sleeve, the same uniform that had caught the nurse's attention that day at Fort Benning almost eight years ago.

Changing into his civilian clothes, he turned off his computer, made his way down onto the deserted street below, and began to walk briskly towards the airport.

There, he hailed a car to take him home, where he could pack a few personal items before going into hiding.

"I served honestly for this country. I was loyal to my country," he says, two traits he knows will forever mark him as a target under the new Taliban regime.

Two soldiers lift a small child by the arms up a wall
Amid a terrorist attack and Taliban fighters blocking the gates, many people were too afraid to approach Kabul Airport. (

US Marine Corps via Reuters 

)

As the deadline for the US troop withdrawal loomed, the soldier waited, flitting from hideout to hideout, fearful that his life would be cut short if he so much as showed his face on the streets of the capital.

He watched for weeks as Afghans crowded the airport gates, trying desperately to board evacuation flights operated by the very forces he trained with and worked alongside: the US, Britain and Australia.

But he could not risk making the trip to the airport. His only passport is an expired service passport, and it would have given him away as a soldier if he tried to cross a Taliban checkpoint.

He heard of the buses plucking Australians from the darkened streets of Kabul and whisking them to the airstrip, but could not find a way onto one.

The soldier knew if only he could make it to the airstrip and present his documents — the evidence of his years of cooperation and work alongside foreign forces — the troops there would have welcomed him to safety.

Stories of Afghan troops captured and executed at the hands of the Taliban rattled him.

He thought of his nieces and nephews, and of his love, who he may never be able to see again.

'I just want to hear from him'  

Their text messages have become more earnest lately, peppered with "I miss you" and "I love you".

She's now 59, widowed and retired. The soldier is the nurse's grounding in life.

When they speak, she fights the impulse to reach through her phone's screen to wrap him in her arms.

Together they dream of his escape to the United States, where they have talked about marrying – two ceremonies, he has suggested, one for each side of the family.

More and more, her heart leaps in her chest each time her phone pings with a message from him. He has told her of reports of the Taliban going house to house, looking for former soldiers in the Afghan National Army.

"I just want to hear from him because that's the only way I'll know he's alive," she says.

She tries not to think about it but has wondered about the phone call she'll have with the soldier's brother in the event he disappears, what it will sound and feel like.

She has never held him or spent more than a few moments on a US military base with him, but she can't bear to imagine the heartache of losing him.

In her darkest moments, the nurse has imagined going offline and receding from the world, unwilling and unable to speak to anyone.

The soldier is her grounding in life and with each day that passes, she grows more anxious about what awaits them.

In her spare time, to make up for their lack of photos together, she has started making digital collages of the two of them, stitching their faces side by side against the backdrop of a sunset or colourful flowers.

But now, with the last remaining American troops gone,  any remaining hope of his escape is evaporating.

"I am sure if the Taliban arrest me, they will torture me," he says.

"They will bring me in front of my family and they will kill me."

The ABC has chosen not to name the Afghan soldier and US nurse due to security concerns.

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https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMiamh0dHBzOi8vd3d3LmFiYy5uZXQuYXUvbmV3cy8yMDIxLTA5LTAyL3RoZS1sb3ZlLWJldHdlZW4tYW4tYW1lcmljYW4tbnVyc2UtYW5kLWFuLWFmZ2hhbi1jb21tYW5kby8xMDA0MTc3MTTSAShodHRwczovL2FtcC5hYmMubmV0LmF1L2FydGljbGUvMTAwNDE3NzE0?oc=5

2021-09-01 19:40:55Z
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