What to Know
- At one point, there were at least 8 San Diego-area families stranded in Afghanistan, all with children who go to school in the Cajon Valley Union School District in east San Diego County
- As of Aug. 27, the district said one of the eight families were still in Afghanistan; the other seven families had either returned home or were safe and on their way
- The families had traveled separately to the country to visit extended family over the summer break but got stuck during the chaos of the Taliban's takeover of Kabul
A couple more of the San Diego-area families stranded in Afghanistan during the chaotic Taliban takeover are now on their way home, Congressman Darrell Issa confirmed Friday.
Issa’s office said after much work overnight to secure the release of more local families from Kabul, two San Diego-area families were coming back to the U.S.
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“Amidst the heartbreak of yesterday and the chaos that has gripped Afghanistan for weeks, we continue to make extraordinary progress in bringing our people home,” said Issa in a press release Friday. “It is an honor to help rescue and reunite families and loved ones, but we still have more work to do.”
The two families en route to San Diego from Afghanistan include seven people – three adults and four children.
Issa’s office said these two families will mark six El Cajon-area families that have been evacuated from Kabul this week. Across those first four families, there were seven adults and 16 children.
“We believe that most of the 20 total children are enrolled in school within the Cajon Valley Union School District, although exact numbers are not known at this time,” a press release from Issa’s office added.
“This has been an around-the-clock operation, and individuals inside of government and outside of it deserve our deepest thanks. But more members of our community still need our help. The mission is to bring our people home, and we will continue to do it,” the Congressman added.
In all, there were at least eight San Diego-area families with students who are part of the Cajon Valley Union School District stranded in Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover.
Howard Shen, a spokesperson from the Cajon Valley Union School District, said Friday that Issa’s office had briefed the district on these latest numbers concerning its students.
“One family is home in Cajon Valley, two families are confirmed safely out of Afghanistan and en route home, four families secure and in process,” Shen explained via email.
He said one San Diego-area family remains in Afghanistan, “awaiting help.”
Issa spoke with NBC 7 earlier this week about the importance of getting the local families out of Afghanistan -- especially before the Biden Administration's Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from the country.
“This could end at any time and that is one of the reasons we are trying to get them out,” Issa told NBC 7 San Diego on Wednesday night. “We don’t want any Americans to be one of those people clinging to the helicopter at the end.”
Among those local families stuck in Afghanistan are students from the Cajon Valley Union School District in San Diego’s East County community of El Cajon. The district confirmed earlier this week that the families of the students – who attend various schools in the area – had reported the kids wouldn’t be able to start the school year on Aug. 17 because the kids and their parents were in Afghanistan, unable to get out of the Kabul airport.
On Thursday afternoon, CVUSD said it was working closely with Issa's team on the safe return of the students and their parents.
"There are additional five families with Cajon Valley students remaining (14 students and 8 parents) to the best of our knowledge," the district said in a statement. "This is new information on a constantly evolving situation."
It added that counseling is available on school sites for students having difficulty processing the situation.
"The Cajon Valley Family And Community Engagement Department is ready and able to support Cajon Valley families and connect them to needed resources," CVUSD continued in its statement. "Cajon Valley Union School District Community and Staff wait with open arms for the safe return of all of our families."
The families had traveled separately to Afghanistan for summer vacations to see their grandparents, cousins and other relatives. Most of the families came to the United States on a special immigrant visa after having worked for the U.S. government or U.S. military in Afghanistan, officials said. The visa allows only the person and their spouse and children.
Many of the families left in early May and June, months before the crisis unfolded and the president of Afghanistan fled as the Taliban seized power, officials said.
“Just like you and I, they had used the summer to go back to see their relatives," CVUSD Superintendent David Miyashiro told the AP earlier this week. “No one felt that were going to be unsafe or unable to return.”
The superintendent said the families are particularly scared because of the upcoming Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to end its withdrawal.
On Wednesday, one of the San Diego area families – six local students and their mom and dad – were able to safely return to Southern California, a liaison working with the families told NBC 7. Details about how they got back to the U.S. were not immediately released.
Issa's district encompasses the central and northeastern parts of San Diego County and a portion of Riverside County, including the communities of El Cajon, Fallbrook, San Marcos, Valley Center, Ramona, Escondido, Santee, Lakeside, Temecula, and the mountain and desert areas of the San Diego-Imperial County line.
The congressman said his staff has been in constant communication with the CVUSD families. Via social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp, Issa said his office had learned of dozens more San Diego area families stranded in Afghanistan and they were sharing that information with the State Department and the White House.
“We’re trying to grab as much information as we can including passing on information about the sites they will be going to, so if something happens and we lose communication with them, we want them to still go to those points,” he added.
Meanwhile, San Diego-based Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, CA-53, sent out this statement Wednesday night about the local ties to the crisis in Afghanistan.
"Heartbreaking to see so many local folks, including so many kids, unable to get out of Afghanistan. My office has been working on hundreds of similar cases, and it underscores how great the need is to get American citizens, Afghan allies, and partners out.”
On Thursday morning, the Pentagon confirmed there had been an explosion outside Kabul airport that ended with casualties, further throwing the U.S. evacuation efforts into turmoil. The initial blast outside the airport’s Abbey Gate resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian casualties, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter.
Officials confirmed Thursday that 13 U.S. service members had been killed in the Kabul attack.
In an emotional speech from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden said the latest bloodshed would not drive the U.S. out of Afghanistan earlier than scheduled.
“We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said.