It was about 3 am in New York, but Nazdana Hasani refused to sleep.
She stared at her phone, closing and restarting WhatsApp, hoping to restore the internet for her mother back home in Afghanistan.
I tried three more times, but the call didn’t work.
The last time Ms. Hosni saw her mother in person was in August 2021, days before the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Ms. Hosni, 24, served in the Afghan National Army’s Women’s Tactical Platoon, an all-female squad that accompanied U.S. Special Operations Forces on missions in search of high-level Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS targets. With the Taliban taking over two years ago, Ms. Hosni was faced with a decision: live under an oppressive government as a woman who worked alongside the US military, or flee her homeland for the United States.
“If I had stayed,” she said, “the Taliban would have killed me and my family.”
Of the 45 Afghan women who served in Ms. Hosni’s platoon, 39 escaped amid the chaotic withdrawal of US forces nearly two years ago.
Now Ms. Hosni and most of her platoon are among the tens of thousands of Afghans living in the United States on humanitarian grounds, and a temporary legal status. This month, the Biden administration announced a plan to allow Afghans to apply for extended parole so they can continue to live and work in the United States after their status expires in August. It is not clear if the extensions, if granted, will be for two years, as it was the first time.
For those who were in the platoon, the goal is to stay in the US long-term and be joined by their families, who are still in Afghanistan. Ms. Hosni and nearly all of the platoon have applied for asylum — protected status for those who fear persecution in their home country — but the system is badly jammed. Only three women have been granted asylum so far, enabling them to obtain a green card and bring their families.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, sponsored the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill that would create a legal path to permanent residence for Afghans who worked alongside Americans during the conflict in Afghanistan.
“Many of our Afghan allies have risked their lives and the safety of their loved ones to protect our service members,” said Ms. Klobuchar.
Legislation stalled in the last Congress amid Republican concerns about vetting applicants, but Ms. Klobuchar said she is working with Republicans to drum up support for another bid later this year.
Ms. Hasani, who works in a gift shop in a quiet suburb of Westchester County, New York, shares an apartment with two Afghan women she met at a shelter for evacuees in 2021.
The only piece of art in Ms. Hosni’s room is a painting affixed to the base of her bed.
“I did this when I first came to the States,” she said. “Some of the volunteers in the camps gave us paint and canvas.”
Joining the army was Ms. Hosni’s childhood dream. The youngest member of the platoon, she was born just months before the start of America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan.
“I remember my mother telling us, the Americans, they are here for us, they are good people,” said Ms. Hasani.
The idea for the Sayyida Hasni Platoon came about a decade into the war, when the U.S. Army decided it needed female troops to help patrol rural villages. It was culturally insensitive for male soldiers to search or converse with Afghan women.
Having them on missions was invaluable, said Mary Corols, an Army captain who worked closely with the platoon. “They had information about tribal affiliations, they could look at a village and tell us what didn’t work for us, they helped us look for higher-level targets.”
Today, most members of the platoon are spread across the United States working in minimum-wage service jobs.
Since her arrival, Mrs. Hosni has clung to memories of her adventures in the army.
“I try to be grateful for my life here,” she said. “But my life and my work, everything is completely different now.”
Last month, Ms. Colers, Ms. Hasani, and nearly all members of the platoon in the United States traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act.
“Every day it hurts me, because I know my family is not safe in Afghanistan,” said Ms. Hosni.
She and other members of the platoon said they underwent extensive background checks to serve alongside the US Army. The women also said they must obtain written permission from male relatives to join the Afghan army. These documents contained information about the women’s families and remained in Afghan government files after the fall of Kabul.
Many of the women said that since then, their relatives have been threatened, tortured or killed by the Taliban, according to Ms. Kowals. She and other US soldiers who worked with the platoon said they believed the Taliban used the documents to trace family members.
“It’s hard going through life with this constant worry about family back home,” said Joyda Afshari, 34, who served in the platoon for nearly a decade and who helped train recruits, including Ms. Hosni.
I interviewed the two women for asylum last October – Ms. Afshari was granted asylum, while Ms. Hasani’s application is still pending.
Ms. Afshari, who works at Chick-fil-A near her Dallas apartment complex, said she often finds herself thinking about life before the fall of Kabul. She was weeks away from obtaining a law degree from Kabul University.
“I’m very lucky, because women in Afghanistan, they can’t work in restaurants, they can’t leave the house,” Afshari said. “But it can be hard to remember how long I worked and homeschooled, and how it was all taken away so quickly.”
While she waits for the opportunity to apply for a green card, Ms. Afshari tries to extract much joy from her life in Dallas. Most of its neighbors are immigrants from Iraq and Mexico. “None of us can speak English,” she said, laughing, “but we find a way to speak.”
The day she discovered a nearby Arabic grocery store stocking halal meat, Ms. Afshari prepared a feast of Afghani shawarma for her neighbours.
Mahnaz Akbari, the commander of the faction, was not granted asylum. She used her English language skills to work for a non-profit organization in Washington. She said she tries to keep spirits high even when the women are exhausted, often through group video calls.
While cooking dinner in her Silver Spring, Md., apartment last week, Ms. Akbari propped her phone up on the kitchen counter, waiting for members of the platoon on the West Coast to join her.
During these calls, the women exchange photos, share Afghani recipes that can be made using American groceries, and give each other advice on questions about life in the States. How many credit cards are you supposed to open? Is going to the DMV as bad as people say? Ms. Hosni said those calls have become a lifeline.
In the weeks following her asylum interview, anxiety gripped Ms. Hosni, asking why there had been no update on her case. She kept replaying the interview in her head, wondering if she had made a mistake somehow. Ms. Hosni said Ms. Akbari’s support helped her keep her calm.
“Mahnaz takes time to cheer us up, so we don’t give up,” she said.
Luke Broadwater Contribute to the preparation of reports.