Sunnyvale Army officer, California sister work to get Afghan human rights activists home

A former Army officer and a California sister are working tirelessly in the hopes of getting seven relatives who have worked for the U.S. government and human rights organizations out of Afghanistan.

Patrick Hane of Sunnyvale, who left the Armed Forces as a captain, and Farzana, who used to live in the Bay Area, have been emailing with Congressman Ro Khanna and on the phone non-stop, trying to figure out how to get her brother, mother, sister, sister-in-law and three nieces out of the Taliban stronghold. 

The good news: All of Farzana's Afghan relatives have the proper visas, paperwork and boarding passes to get on a plane and leave.

The bad news: The airport has been a chaotic scene filled with confusion and gunfire. And Farzana's family has been among those thwarted from getting on a plane. 

Another problem: Farzana, who left Afghanistan in 2011, is a women's rights activist who helped run a girls' schools. Her brother, Reza, has worked for the United Nations as a translator for the U.S. Army - which is how the family knows Hane, who had a tour in Afghanistan 15 years ago. These are all jobs that the fundamentalist Taliban regime has frowned up. And Afghans who have U.S. connections fear that their past work with Westerners makes them prime targets for retribution. 

They asked that their last names not be used for safety reasons. 

"I'm scared," Reza said on Friday, speaking via a spotty Skype connection from Afghanistan, where the internet went out several times during the conversation. "It was a very terrible situation. Yesterday, I was close to the gate in the south and I witnessed shooting against the civilians."

MORE: Biden addresses Afghan evacuation as US struggles to pick up pace

He told his sister that he tried to get his family to the airport the next day and the taxi driver refused to take them because of all the gunfire surrounding the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul.

Beside the shooting, there are just too many people at the airport, crowding and clogging the system. There are reports that some of the Taliban can't read the documents being presented to them. 

"There was too much traffic jam. It's just awful waiting," Reza said, describing how mobbed the airport was. "It was very sad. Both children and women paraded around and, screaming."

Former Army Capt. Patrick Hane of Sunnyvale in Afghanistan. 

His sister echoed his description. 

"There is no way to come here," Farzana said. "The only way to exit from Afghanistan is airport. And airport is kind of chaos right now."

About 100,000 Afghans were seeking evacuation through a U.S. visa program meant to provide refuge to Afghans who had worked with Americans, as well as family members, according to the U.S.-based International Refugee Assistance Program. 

Hane, who served in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2006 and is now an EMT, has gotten to know the family well. 

Farzana's husband had worked as a translator for him back then and they have remained closed for more than a decade. 

He requested immediate help to secure their visas through Khanna's office and is just shocked that the family can't leave Afghanistan, especially since President Joe Biden has promised to protect Afghans who served alongside the U.S. military during the war. 

"I'm trying to get their story out there right now," Hane said. "Since the world needs to know the truth of what's happening in Kabul from the people who are still stuck there. Especially for those people who have worked for us for years and have the proper clearance to get out." 

With an Aug. 31 deadline looming, tens of thousands remained to be airlifted out of the country. Flights are indeed leaving Afghanistan, but just not at a quick enough pace. 

RELATED: Fremont friends waiting for overseas family to get out of Afghanistan

Reza's daughters also want to escape Afghanistan because of the Taliban takeover. 

As of Thursday, the U.S. rushed in troops, transport planes and commanders to secure the airport, seek Taliban guarantees of safe passage, and ramp up an airlift capable of ferrying between 5,000 and 9,000 people a day. Nearly 6,000 people had been evacuated by the U.S. military since Saturday, a White House official said Wednesday night.

Biden and his top officials said the U.S. was working to speed up the evacuation, but made no promises how long it would last or how many desperate people it would fly to safety.

On Friday, Biden held a news conference saying he would get everyone to the airport safely. 

ALSO: Former Afghan soccer player now in Bay Area fears for those under Taliban rule

Biden has defended his decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan that began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has rejected blame for the chaos that has ensued. Biden this laid responsibility on Afghans themselves for the Taliban takeover and for the frantic scrambles to flee the country.

But refugee groups note yearslong backlog of visa applications.

An operation to fly to the United States former Afghan translators and others whose visa processes were closest to completion had managed to bring in only about half of the 4,000 Afghans predicted before the Taliban takeover.

The nearly weeklong ordeal has been extremely frustrating for the family.

Farzana has barely slept. 

But she and her family all are still clinging to hope. Hope that they can be reunited safely together in the near future.

"I just pray to hold my family," Farzana said. "My brother and his wife and his three daughters, and my mother, and my sister came all need to come here safely because they deserve to be here."

She said they worked for 20 years fighting for human rights and women's rights.

"All Afghans deserve to be safe," she said. "But these people are special not because they're my family. But because they worked with America and worked for humanity. They deserve it because they work for the humanity the whole life. They deserve to be here." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez