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Five San Diego families stranded in Afghanistan

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2021 (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)

Four San Diego County families stranded in Afghanistan have been rescued and two of them have arrived safely back in Southern California. Five families still remain stranded.

A seven-member East County family arrived home Wednesday from Afghanistan, where unrest and upheaval after the Taliban takeover has complicated efforts to evacuate Americans.

Two additional families have been confirmed safely out of Afghanistan and “to the best of our knowledge” there are an additional five families remaining — 14 children and eight parents, said Howard Shen, spokesperson for the Cajon Valley Union School District.

Many of the children who traveled with their parents are students in the district. All are Afghanis living in the United States on special visas.

“We are still working in coordination with Congressman (Darrell) Issa’s office for the safe return of the remaining families and students still stranded there,” Shen said.

“This is new information on a constantly evolving situation,” Shen said, and declined sharing further details.

An email from Issa’s office said another family from the San Diego area has also returned.

“This is great news, the result of tireless work by our team to ensure that our people aren’t left behind in Afghanistan,” Issa said. “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.”

Shen said the district is asking that privacy be given to the families who have returned home “to rest and recuperate from the long journey back to the U.S.”

Shen said counseling is available at the school sites and district for all students in need.

“The Cajon Valley Family And Community Engagement department is ready and able to support Cajon Valley families and connect them to needed resources,” Shen said. “(We) wait with open arms for the safe return of all of our families.”

San Diego County Supervisor Joel Anderson, whose district includes El Cajon, wrote an email Thursday to President Biden urging the evacuation of the East County families still in Afghanistan.

“Almost two dozen students from the Cajon Valley Union School District, in Afghanistan to visit extended family, continue to be prevented from safely traveling to the airport in Kabul,” Anderson wrote. “Without direct intervention from our military forces, these students as well as other Americans and Afghans who assisted the U.S. during the war could be forced to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.”

The email from Issa’s spokesman Jonathan Wilcox said that after being contacted by local school officials as well as local relatives, Issa’s staff was informed that families with several children were among the thousands of American citizens stranded in Afghanistan and that his team was working to get them home.

Earlier this week, the district reported that at least two dozen of its students and 16 parents were stranded in Afghanistan, unable to get to the airport in Kabul after a summer trip to visit relatives.

The families from the school district in East County are among thousands of individuals waiting to leave the country that has devolved into chaos amid the U.S. pullout of troops after 20 years of occupation.

Cajon Valley Superintendent David Miyashiro and Mike Serban, the district’s director of Family And Community Engagement, said the children range from preschoolers to high school students. They said the students went there on summer break with their families to visit extended family members.

The U.S. government is accelerating efforts to rescue Americans as the Taliban militants who once ruled the country take control. The military is conducting evacuations outside the airport, but it’s unclear how far they are traveling.

Miyashiro told school district board members via text message on Tuesday that he and other Cajon Valley staff met virtually with Rep. Issa and his staff about the situation.

Miyashiro said that the families involved are on special Visas for U.S. military service with U.S. passports to travel. He said the district was able to provide information on the families and that government officials are working to locate the children and their families, but for safety reasons could not share names or other details.

The email from Wilcox said his office received a request for help from the husband and father of five American citizens through a form on the issa.house.gov website.

Wilcox wrote that Issa directed efforts to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House before the families began to be successfully extracted from Afghanistan.

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© 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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