SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The first Afghan refugee to arrive in Utah after the fall of Afghanistan barely escaped Kabul with his life. On his first day here, he told ABC4 that his family had an even closer call.
34-year-old air traffic controller Azim Kakaie was working in the tower at Kabul Airport last week when the Taliban took the city, causing thousands to mob the airport gates. Kakaie kept guiding planes in and out as gunfire rang out all around him.
“All I know,” he said. “Is that was chaos that happened there.”
With his wife, mother-in-law, and brother trapped outside by the Taliban, Kakaie had the opportunity to board a military evacuation flight.
“It was very difficult decision for me to leave my family behind since they were out,” Kakaie said. “They couldn’t make it into the airport.”
Kakaie made it safely to Qatar where he got a call that his family had been beaten by Taliban guards.
“What they went through, how the Taliban beating them. Their whole body is like swollen and turned black,” he said. “With the tear gas I don’t even know how even to explain that. I don’t even have the ability to see the videos and all these pictures that they have.”
On the fourth day, they were finally able to get into the airport, just 30 minutes before a suicide bomber killed dozens of Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. servicemen including Marine Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover from Utah.
“Young American heroes that they come in here, come in Kabul to help humanity,” Kakaie said. “To take all the civilians as much as they could. It was great sacrifice.”
Kakaie says his brother, his wife and her mother are now safely in Europe, en route to join him here in Utah.
“Thanks God, they are not in danger anymore,” he said. “They are in Germany and they will be coming soon I hope to United States.”
Now Utah’s first refugee since the fall of Afghanistan is planning for their new life here, knowing that if he would have stayed, the Taliban would have hunted him down and killed him for working alongside U.S. troops in the control tower.
“Maybe in a month or something because they have all of our records. I cannot be alive maybe,” he said, swallowing hard. “All I can say. Even for my family. If they found out they are there. Yeah…”
Kakaie spent his first day in Utah filling out paperwork to get a place to live and a job. He’s looking forward to reuniting with his wife, brother and mother-in-law very soon and tells ABC4 he would like the opportunity to meet Staff Sergeant Hoover’s family to thank them for his sacrifice in person.