Nebraskans released after 105 days in Taliban custody

Anees Kahlil back home in Gretna with family
While the world is currently focused on Ukraine some in the metro are still reeling from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 11:06 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - While the world is currently focused on Ukraine, many from the metro are still working to help refugees from Taliban control in Afghanistan.

The Human First Coalition, founded by Omaha’s Safi Rauf and led by several family members, continues to take great risks to secure safety for families and individuals left behind.

Rauf and his oldest brother Anees paid a huge price for that risk, spending three and a half months in Taliban custody.

“It was not an arrest, it was a kidnapping,” Anees Kahlil said.

On December 18, the Nebraska brothers were taken by the Taliban. They were doing humanitarian work, and according to Anees, they were following the law set down by the Taliban, and working with their approval. They were told by their captors it was a “misunderstanding”, something that was never explained to the brothers.

“The minute they took us to the detention facility, I said, that’s it, it’s the end of our lives.”

Anees, 44, and his younger brother Safi were thrown into eight by eight rooms where cold winter water seeped through the walls and they slept on the floor without mattresses.

Months passed and they tried hunger strikes to force the Taliban to release them.

“Safi was tortured,” Anees said. “I could hear them from a distance, 11 people were beating him and I was dragged from his room to a different room with five people, they hit me they dragged me. (But) we never gave up.”

His family back in Nebraska didn’t either. Working with the U.S. State Department, Anees’ wife Mariam traveled with his parents from the U.S. to Afghanistan in mid-March. They were granted fifteen minutes to see him that first time, but the tears made it difficult to speak.

”All I could see, I will never forget, when he was looking at me, he didn’t talk to us or anything,” Mariam said. “He was just looking at us, and his tears would just drop.”

After months of negotiations and 105 days in Taliban custody, the U.S. secured their release April 1.

President Joe Biden spoke with the brothers on the phone, calling them heroes for their humanitarian work.

“They did a great job bringing them home,” Mariam said. “It was the best surprise of our life.”

Now home in Gretna, Anees must overcome PTSD as well as the physical wounds he suffered.

And as wife Mariam, daughter Iman, son Sahil, and toddler Ayaan help him heal, they also know that as soon as he can, Anees will resume his work with the Human First Coalition helping refugees in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

”We sacrificed a lot and we will keep working,” Kahlil said. “Nobody’s gonna stop us.”

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