NEW YORK – It was a split second decision. Mirza Ali Ahmadi and his wife Suraya found themselves and their five children in a chaotic crowd outside the gates of Kabul airport in Afghanistan on August 19 when a US soldier asked over the high fence if they needed help.
Fearing that their two-month-old baby Sohail would be crushed in hand-to-hand combat, they handed it over to the soldier, thinking they would soon reach the entrance, which was only about five meters away.
But at that moment, said Mirza Ali, the Taliban, who had quickly taken over the country when the 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 he had worked as a security guard at the U.S. embassy for 10 years, frantically started asking every officer he met about his baby’s whereabouts. He said a military commander told him the airport was too dangerous for a baby and that he may have been moved to a special area for children. But when they got there it was empty.
“He walked around the airport with me to look everywhere,” Mirza Ali said in an interview through a translator. He said he never found out the commandant’s name because he didn’t speak English and could rely on Afghan colleagues from the embassy to communicate. Three days passed.
“I’ve spoken to maybe more than 20 people,” he said. “Every officer – military or civilian – I came across asked about my baby.
He said one of the plainclothes officers he spoke to told him that Sohail may have been evacuated by himself. “They said, ‘We don’t have the resources to keep the baby here.'”
Mirza Ali, 35, Suraya, 32, and her other children, 17, 9, 6 and 3 years old, were sent on an evacuation flight to Qatar and then to Germany and eventually ended up in the United States. The family is now in Fort Bliss, Texas with other Afghan refugees waiting to be relocated somewhere in the US. You have no relatives here.
Mirza Ali said he saw other families simultaneously hand over their babies to soldiers over the fence at Kabul airport. A video clip of a young baby in a diaper being pulled by her arm over barbed wire went viral on social media. She was later reunited with her parents.
Data has been blurry since his baby went missing, Mirza Ali said. He tells everyone he meets – helpers, US officials – about Sohail. “Everyone promises to do their best, but they are only promises,” he said.
An Afghan refugee support group has created a “Missing Baby” sign with Sohail’s picture on it and is distributing it on their networks in the hope that someone will recognize him.
A US government official familiar with the situation said the case had been reported to all agencies involved, including US bases and overseas locations. The child was last handed over to a US soldier during the chaos at Kabul airport, but “unfortunately no one can find the child,” the official said.
A Department of Defense spokesman and a Department of Homeland Security spokesman overseeing the relocation efforts forwarded inquiries to the State Department on the matter as the separation was taking place overseas.
A State Department spokesman said the government is working with international partners and the international community “to explore every way to find the child, including an international amber alert issued by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
Suraya, who also spoke through a translator, said she cried most of the time and her other children were desperate.
“All I do is think of my child,” said Suraya. “Everyone who calls me, my mother, my father, my sister, they all comfort me and say, ‘Don’t worry, God is good, your son will be found.'”