Female Afghan Governor Opposed to the Taliban Reveals She Is Safe After Secret Escape

Salima Mazari, one of the three female district governors in the country, had been leading the fight in her area against the Taliban before the group returned to power

This photograph taken on July 14, 2021 shows Salima Mazari (C), a female district governor in male-dominated Afghanistan, looking on from a hill while accompanied by security personnel near the frontlines against the Taliban at Charkint district in Balkh province. - Mazari, a female district governor in male-dominated Afghanistan, is on a mission -- recruiting menfolk to fight the Taliban.
Photo: Farshad Usyan/AFP via Getty

One of the three female district governors in Afghanistan, Salima Mazari, is telling her story after revealing that she has escaped the Taliban.

TIME reported in a piece published Tuesday that Mazari, who had been feared captured, is not only alive but was never taken into custody by the militant group. In fact, the reporters of the TIME piece say they assisted with her escape.

"Zakarya was based in Afghanistan but able to leave for Paris during the evacuation," Zakarya Hassani and Robyn Huang write. "He kept in touch with Mazari after the Taliban seized power and she went into hiding. Together in a joint rescue effort by Afghans, Americans and Canadians, he helped to play a part in getting her to safety."

Following the fall of Afghanistan in mid-August, as the U.S. military prepared to withdraw, stories circulated online suggesting that Mazari, who had been leading the fight against the Taliban in her area, had been captured after the group overtook her district of Charkint.

"If we don't fight now against the extremist ideologies and the groups that force them on us, we will lose our chance to defeat them. They will succeed. They will brainwash society into accepting their agenda," Mazari said earlier this year, adding, "I am not afraid. I believe in the rule of law in Afghanistan."

As the the Taliban swept into Kabul in August, Mazari went quiet and fears for her spread.

According to TIME, this is what happened:

Everything changed when Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan's fourth-largest city, fell on Aug. 14. After ordering her men to stand down, Mazari told TIME, she fled to the Uzbekistan border but was turned away.

So she headed back to Mazar-i-Sharif, staying at numerous safe houses along the way.

Mazari first informed Hassani, one of the story's reporters, that she was safe on Aug. 20. Hassani then relayed the message to Huang. Her partner, Canadian photojournalist Matt Reichel, was assisting others in escaping Afghanistan and agreed to help.

Reichel reportedly pressed contacts within the State Department and Department of Defense for assistance in bringing Mazari to safety.

"Eventually, one of my friends at the State Department, who wishes to remain unnamed, but has been instrumental in helping countless vulnerable Afghans escape, was able to forward her information to the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) and a high-level figure in the Secretary of State's office," Reichel told the TIME authors. "This individual replied within hours offering help."

Later that evening, according to the magazine, Mazari and 13 of her family members made their way to the rescue point, where they were to be helicoptered over to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and evacuated the following day.

The plan was a success: Mazari and her family were transported to Qatar on a U.S. military flight and are currently waiting for resettlement.

Though safe, Mazari told TIME that she remains concerned for her fellow Afghans. "I saw families fleeing and leaving everything behind … It was difficult to see my people in that situation. Everyone I spoke to is dealing with the weight of sadness on their shoulders."

"I have cried a lot," she added. "I have thought about all those youth who were sacrificed in the past 20 years for the evils of politics. I thought about the aspirations of a generation that are heading towards destruction. I feel a lump in my throat when thinking of my people and fellow soldiers' struggles, sacrifices and deaths. Every time I think of these things, I feel like I am dying."

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