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U.S.-Funded Journalists In Afghanistan Fear For Their Lives

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Among the many Afghans left behind after the evacuations ended are journalists working for U.S. government-funded media. There are about 600 of them, including family members, who tried to get out and now fear for their lives. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on what options they have.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty grew out of the Cold War, running surrogate stations behind the Iron Curtain in countries with no free press. For the past nearly two decades, it has run a station in Afghanistan, broadcasting in Dari and Pashto. And even Taliban fighters have been known to call into its talk shows, according to Jamie Fly, who heads RFE/RL.

JAMIE FLY: And so we are a known quantity to the Taliban. Because of that, we've faced harassment from the Taliban, especially out in the provinces. We sadly have lost colleagues in recent years due to attacks.

KELEMEN: So he had been working for months to get some of the more vulnerable reporters out, frustrated by a complicated visa process. Then came the rapid fall of Kabul in a chaotic evacuation effort. Fly says he got very few of his journalists out.

FLY: They, like tens of thousands of other Afghan nationals who wish to leave but who failed to get evacuated, are now stuck with very few options.

KELEMEN: State Department spokesperson Ned Price says the U.S. tried to evacuate this group of reporters, but the ISIS-K suicide bombing outside Kabul's airport changed everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NED PRICE: It stood in the way of our ability to bring these individuals to safety before August 31. But I am telling you, we have told them that we have a commitment to these individuals.

KELEMEN: Price says the U.S. is providing them with, as he puts it, tailored guidance, adding the U.S. is looking at all options from land routes to flights if and when the airport in Kabul reopens. A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and RFE/RL board member Ryan Crocker calls this a moment to sit tight.

RYAN CROCKER: It's probably not a great time to hire a taxi and head for the border.

KELEMEN: Crocker wants to keep up the pressure on the State Department to negotiate safe passage for these U.S.-funded journalists. The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans with visas to leave, and so far, they have not stopped the radio station from broadcasting. But Jamie Fly is clearly worried.

FLY: We're not sure, ultimately, what the Taliban's approach to journalists in general will be, what the Taliban's approach to us will be.

KELEMEN: And that leads to a lot of uncertainty for his colleagues stuck in Afghanistan.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEST PESSIMIST'S "CALL THE AMBULANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.