On August 15, 2021, the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took control over the capital city, Kabul. With a presence in Afghanistan since 1980, VOA journalists have reported on numerous leadership changes there, but as U.S. forces began to leave and President Ashraf Ghani fled, VOA journalists were covering the unfolding story as they also evacuated to safety.
VOA South and Central Asia Division Director Ayesha Tanzeem recalls the day vividly:
The city was in panic. People were running or driving their cars recklessly. Within an hour of the first news, everything in the city shut down: all shops, all offices, even medical clinics.
By the next day the Taliban had entered the city, they were everywhere, especially outside all the important buildings or landmarks. They had taken over security responsibilities and were present everywhere previously staffed by the Afghan security forces, including standing guard outside the homes of former President Hamid Karzai and former CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah who had chosen to stay in the city.
The city seemed to have traveled back in time by 20 years. The dress code of both men and women had changed. Almost all of the men were now dressed in shalwar kameez rather than the previously popular jeans or pants. Women had simply disappeared from the streets of Kabul.
As tens thousands of Afghans scrambled to get to the airport in their attempt to flee the country, VOA Afghan Service Chief Hasib Danish Alikozai recalls the challenging days and weeks during the U.S. troop withdrawal from the country.
I can’t recall how many sleepless nights I had. I was working with [Acting Director] Yolanda [López] to secure the safe passage of our stringers. It was a very emotional time for all of us and we were all on high alert, but we knew as journalists, we still had a job to do. We were faced with two choices at the time. One was to take risks and rush our reporters to the airport. The other option was to take our time and ensure that there were no risks to our staff on the ground. We collectively opted for the second option and, at the end, were able to evacuate our people to safety ahead of other media outlets. Thanks to the active participation of senior leaders across the agency in our evacuation efforts, we were largely successful.
The South and Central Asia Division, with support from the News Center, has produced a special multimedia report, “Afghanistan Under the Taliban,” which examines how the Taliban is running the country and the many lives impacted by this leadership shift. The report includes a number of documentaries, eyewitness accounts about the Taliban takeover, stories about the refugees who fled the country, and additional news coverage about the region.
“Despite the numerous obstacles we have had to navigate with a country now run by the Taliban, we are still dedicated to our audience in Afghanistan,” explained Acting Director Yolanda López. “We are one of the leading sources of news and information in the country and we are determined to continue serving our audience now and in the future.”