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U.S.-based Catholic organization struggles to get employees out of Kabul


EyePress News | AFP

John Burger - published on 09/01/21 - updated on 09/01/21

Roots of Peace has so far not been able to evacuate its Afghan workers.

Roots of Peace, an organization started by an American Catholic woman to help people in war-torn areas of the world rebuild their lives, has been trying to get its employees out of Afghanistan, even after the U.S. military completed its pullout this week.

“The past few weeks have been the most agonizing, difficult, intense period of my professional life, as well as the lives of the Afghan Roots of Peace employees we tried to rescue through evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” Roots of Peace founder Heidi Kuhn stated on her Facebook page Tuesday. “As Afghanistan descended into tumult, violence, conflict, the people who worked with me for nearly 20 years, and worked on behalf of America and our U.S. government’s interests, are now at incredible risk.”

The San Rafael, California-based nonprofit worked in Afghanistan to remove landmines and use the ground to help local farmers grow produce, lifting them out of poverty. Kuhn and her husband, Gary Kuhn, flew to Istanbul last week to be as close as possible to the situation in Kabul to coordinate their employees’ rescue.

The Taliban took over the organization’s compound in Kabul August 15.  

Catholic San Francisco described the plight of Kuhn’s Afghan employees:

Nonetheless, Kuhn described a nightmarish weekend that had started out a few days earlier with great hope. After completing all the required paperwork and protocols for those on board, the bus arrived at the airport on August 27 as planned. It was left stranded at the gates for over 10 hours.

It returned the next day, August 28, at a new time, and again the refugees were left waiting in the hot and crowded bus for hours without bathroom access or water.

All on board were required to hand over their personal credentials to the Taliban at the airport, Kuhn said, and they remain in its hands. … The bus left the airport again when it was warned of an imminent ISIS-K terrorist threat, said Kuhn.

On Tuesday, she said she “endeavored in every way to communicate with them and bring them out of Afghanistan and to safety.” She said she has been “heartened … by the incredible support I received from the Holy See, the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and from interfaith religious and political leaders.”

Roots of Peace staff in Afghanistan “was rejected at the South Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul,” Kuhn said.

“I am personally devastated that with all of these efforts, and, with all of this support that we were not successful in having any — not one — of the endangered Roots of Peace staff and family,” she added. 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco tweeted on Tuesday that it was “very sad news” that the Afghan employees were still unable to get out. “Keep praying for Roots of Peace workers.”

Kuhn said that she was still looking for a solution after the military withdrawal. Her employees “were implementing programs funded by the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for nearly two decades at great risk to themselves,” she said. “These programs trained farmers to plant high value crops for export and trade.”

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