Baby handed over to US soldiers in Afghanistan airlift chaos still missing

It was a split second decision. Mirza Ali Ahmadi and his wife Suraya found themselves and their five children on August 19 in a chaotic crowd outside the gates of Kabul airport in Afghanistan when an American soldier, from the other side of the high fence, asked them if they needed help.

Fearing that their two-month-old baby Sohail would be crushed in the melee, they handed him over to the soldier, thinking they would soon reach the entrance, which was only about 16 feet (5 meters) away.

But at that point, Mirza Ali said, the Taliban, who had quickly taken over the country when US troops withdrew, began to push back hundreds of hopeful evacuees. It took the rest of the family more than half an hour to get to the other side of the airport fence.

Once inside, Sohail was nowhere to be found.

Mirza Ali, who said she worked as a security guard at the US embassy for 10 years, began desperately asking all the officials she encountered about her baby’s whereabouts. He said a military commander told him the airport was too dangerous for a baby and that they could have taken him to a special area for children. But when they arrived it was empty.

A horde of people runs towards the Kabul airport terminal after Taliban insurgents seized control of the presidential palace in Kabul on August 16, 2021, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media (credit : Jawad Sukhanyar)

“He walked with me all over the airport to search everywhere,” Mirza Ali said in an interview through a translator. He said he never knew the commander’s name as he did not speak English and relied on his Afghan colleagues at the embassy to help him communicate. Three days passed.

“I spoke to maybe more than 20 people,” he said. “All the officers, military or civil, with whom I came across asked about my baby.”

He said one of the civil servants he spoke to told him that Sohail could have been evacuated by himself. “They said ‘we don’t have the resources to keep the baby here.’

Mirza Ali, 35, Suraya, 32, and their other children, 17, 9, 6 and 3 years old, were put on an evacuation flight to Qatar and then to Germany and finally landed in the United States. The family is now at Fort Bliss in Texas with other Afghan refugees waiting to be resettled somewhere in the United States. They have no relatives here.

Mirza Ali said he saw other families deliver their babies to the soldiers on the Kabul airport fence at the same time. A video clip of a small baby in a diaper being hoisted by his arm over a barbed wire went viral on social media. Later he was reunited with his parents.

Since her baby was lost, dating is blurry, Mirza Ali said. Every person he meets – aid workers, US officials – tells them about Sohail. “They all promise they will do their best, but they are just promises,” he said.

An Afghan refugee support group created a “Missing Baby” sign with Sohail’s image and is distributing it to their networks in the hope that someone will recognize it.

A US government official familiar with the situation said the case had been raised to all agencies involved, including US bases and overseas locations. The boy was last seen being handed over to a US soldier during the chaos at the Kabul airport, but “unfortunately no one can find the boy,” the official said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense and a spokesperson for the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees resettlement efforts, referred inquiries on the matter to the State Department, as the separation took place abroad. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Suraya, who also spoke through a translator, said that she cries most of the time and that her other children are in distress.

“All I’m doing is thinking about my son,” Suraya said. “Everyone who calls me, my mother, my father, my sister, they all comfort me and say ‘don’t worry, God is kind, your son will be found.’

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