The Afghan baby who received global attention after being passed to a Marine at Kabul Airport during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan is safe and living with her parents in Arizona.
Images of the then-16 day old child being handed over barbed wire fencing as surging crowds tried to reach US military flights symbolised the desperate plight of Afghans trying to flee the Taliban.
Now two months old, baby Liya’s harrowing escape story is now being told for the first time.
Speaking to AZfamily.com, her father Hameed revealed he was standing next to the US Marine who lifted his child to safety, and was pictured holding the soldier’s legs to stabilise him as he reached over.
Hameed had been working with the US military for five years as a translator and adviser. He remains a target for the Taliban, and asked that his family name be withheld to protect family members still trapped in Afghanistan.
As the US was trying to get citizens and allies out of Afghanistan in August, Hameed lived at Kabul Airport for a month to assist with the effort.
He was not permitted to leave the secure zone, and wasn’t able to attend his daughter Liya’s birth in early August. His wife Sadia had to endure the difficult birth without him.
As the security situation in Kabul deteriorated over August, Hameed’s fears grew for his family.
“We got intel that people were getting killed, or going missing. By my affiliation (with the military), I knew my home would be next. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” Hameed told AZfamily.com.
By August 19, the family decided the only option was for Sadia to gather passports, cash and belongings, and try to make it to the airport.
Sadia says as she approached the airport with Liya, the Taliban confiscated her identification, cash and belongings at a checkpoint.
Phone lines were down, making communication difficult, but Hameed spotted them among the huge crowds trying to reach an opening in the airport gate.
“They were using water cannons and flashbangs to control the crowd,” Hameed said.
“Every time a bang went off, I could see my daughter start screaming and crying. I couldn’t do anything to help,” he said.
“I knew she’d never make it through. She’d be crushed to death, God forbid, or severely injured,” Hameed said.
The Taliban were subjecting the escaping crowd to beatings as they came through the gate opening, and Hameed asked a US Marine if there was anything he could do.
The soldier told Hameed the only thing he could do was try to lift Liya over the fence, and warned that she may get hurt.
“I told him I’ll take the chance. I’d rather her get hurt than die.”
As the Marine reached down to grab Liya, Hameed held his legs to keep him from falling.
The Marine handed Liya to Hameed, who got to hold his daughter for the first time.
“When she’s older, I’ll tell her she’s a fighter. She made it through the worst of times at the beginning of her life,” Hameed said.
Sadia was still trapped outside, and collapsed from exhaustion. She got through the gate later that night, and the family were placed on an evacuation flight to the US.
Hameed and his family are now living in the Phoenix area with a family friend, and though safe they escaped without any of their belongings or identification.
Hameed has setup a GoFundme account to help Sadia and Liya get medical attention and set up a new life.
He hopes to one day meet the US Marine who helped save his daughter’s life.
“Oh my God. I’d give him a hug. He literally saved my daughter’s life,” Hameed said.
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