It was a split-second decision. On August 19, as a chaotic crowd was waiting outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Mirza Ali Ahmad and his wife Suraya, accompanied by their five children, heard an American soldier, standing over a high fence, ask if they needed help.
Afraid that their two-month-old baby Sohail would be crushed, they handed him over to the soldier, imagining that they would soon reach the entrance, 5 meters away.
But at that moment, according to him, Taliban soldiers — the group that took control of the country with the withdrawal of American troops — began to disperse the Afghans who were seeking to leave the country at that point. It took the family over half an hour to cross the airport fence.
Once inside, it was impossible to locate Sohail.
Ahmad, who claims to have worked as a security guard at the US embassy for ten years, desperately began asking every soldier he met about his son’s whereabouts. A commander told him that the airport was a very dangerous place for babies and that he should have been moved to a special area dedicated to children. But when they got there, the space was empty.
“He walked with me all over the airport to look everywhere,” Ahmad told Reuters in an interview, supported by a translator. He said he never knew the commander’s name because he doesn’t speak English. To communicate at the terminal, he was helped by fellow Afghans with whom he had worked at the embassy. After that episode, three days passed.
“I spoke to about 20 people. Every employee, military or civilian, I met asked about my baby.”
According to Ahmad, one of the civilians told him that Sohail may have been placed alone on a flight that departed Afghanistan. “He said, ‘We don’t have the resources to keep a baby here.'”
Ahmad, 35, Suraya, 32, and their other children — aged 17, 9, 6 and 3 — were put on a evacuation plane to Qatar, then sent to Germany, and eventually arrived in the US. The family is now in Fort Bliss, Texas, with other refugees, waiting to be relocated to some other city. They have no relatives in the country.
The Afghan said he saw other families delivering babies to soldiers at Kabul airport. A video showing a baby being pulled by the arms went viral on the internet — this child was later located by the family.
According to Ahmad, the dates seem to blur into a blur since his son disappeared. With every person he meets — aid workers and American officials — he talks about Sohail. “Everyone promises they’ll do their best, but they’re just promises.”
An Afghan refugee support group has created an image with the words “missing baby” and a photo of the child, and the message is being sent to groups and contacts in the hope that someone will recognize him.
A US government official familiar with the situation told Reuters the case had been reported to all agencies involved, including bases in the US and at overseas locations. According to him, it has still not been possible to locate the child since he was last seen being handed over to an American soldier during the chaos at Kabul airport.
China, land in the middle
Spokespersons for the US Department of Defense and the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees resettlement efforts, referred the matter to the State Department as the separation took place abroad.
The diplomacy body said the government is working with allies and the international community “to use all avenues to locate the child, which includes an international alert issued by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
Suraya, who also spoke to Reuters with the help of a translator, said she cries most of the time and that her other children don’t stop thinking about it, too.
“All I do is think about my baby,” he said. “Everyone who calls me, my mother, my father, my sister, they all try to comfort me and say, ‘Don’t worry, God is good, your child will be found.’