California students airlifted to safety but others still stranded in Afghanistan after summer trip to country

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At least 17 San Diego-students remain stuck in Afghanistan despite having valid documents to leave, according to officials.  (EPA)
At least 17 San Diego-students remain stuck in Afghanistan despite having valid documents to leave, according to officials. (EPA)

Two San Diego-area families, including at least four school children, have made it safely out of Afghanistan after being stranded in the country for days.

The fate of a remaining group of at least six families from the area, however, is in limbo, as the Taliban solidifies its grip over the country and bombings rocked the Kabul airport on Thursday, killing 12 US service personnel and dozens of Afghans.

The Cajon Valley Union School District outside of San Diego announced early this week that nearly two dozen of its students who were in Afghanistan visiting family over the summer were still stuck in the country, as the 31 August deadline for the full US troop withdrawal from the country looms.

Two families have made it out, and another five could escape by the end of Thursday, according to California congressman Darrell Issa, whose district includes El Cajon. He’s one of a number of national leaders working with the State Department and Pentagon to secure the safe passage of these families.

"This is great news, the result of tireless work by our team to ensure that our people aren’t left behind in Afghanistan," Mr Issa said in a statement. "But while we have made extraordinary progress, there are so many more Americans stranded in Afghanistan. We have more work to do and under extremely difficult conditions."

The number of San Diego school children who have been able to leave the country has been reported as between four and six people. That leaves between 17 and 19 students still in the country with their families. Mr Issa also said in an interview with NBC San Diego the search for the students had identified other American families still stuck in the country using US-Afghanistan flight logs.

The El Cajon school district has remained in constant contact with the families, who are sheltering inside the homes of family and friends inside Afghanistan. Some have witnessed shootings and other violence since being in the country, according to the district. Mr Issa added in an interview with NBC San Diego that he was worried for their safety because of reports of “door-to-door” sweeps by the Taliban.

“This could end at any time and that is one of the reasons we are trying to them out not on the last day,” he said during the interview. “We don’t want any Americans to be one of those people clinging to the helicopter at the end.”

The school district was alerted to the stranded students, most of whose families came to the US under special visas for those who assisted the US government in the country, on 16 August.

“We want them back,” Tamara Otero, Cajon Valley Union School District president, told CNN on Wednesday. “We feel hopeful, worried yes, but hopeful.”

Though the families have proper exit paperwork and flights home, some have been unable to get to the Kabul airport, where access is limited and two suicide bombings killed 12 US service members and at least 90 Afghans on Thursday.

Congressman Issa has expressed concern that because the children are dual US-Afghan nationals, they may be prevented from leaving the country, as the Taliban has said it will keep Afghan citizens from evacuating as a means to preserve well-educated specialists needed to run the country.

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