Amid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Fruitland woman works tirelessly to help friend flee Kabul

Ann Marie McCarthy believes woman and her family are safe for now

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Fruitland's Ann Marie McCarthy is a recently retired nurse practitioner who spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserve and decades working for the U.S. Public Health Service.
  • She befriended an Afghan woman named Najwa in 2017 when she adopted the first of two dogs from an Afghanistan-based animal welfare organization.
  • McCarthy said Aug. 20 she has not heard from Najwa in 48 hours.

FARMINGTON — A Fruitland woman who adopted two dogs from an Afghan animal rescue operation has been working feverishly to help an employee of the organization and her family get on a flight out of Kabul since the city fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15.

Ann Marie McCarthy, a recently retired nurse practitioner who spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserve and decades working for the U.S. Public Health Service, said she has reached out to numerous U.S. government officials over the past several days to assist the escape efforts of the woman, her husband and their child.

The woman, whose name is being withheld by The Daily Times for her personal safety and that of her family, holds dual Afghan-American citizenship and is a longtime employee of Nowzad. The internationally known animal welfare organization is run by former British marine commando Pen Farthing, the 2014 CNN Hero of the Year.

Fruitland's Ann Marie McCarthy poses with her dog Jeeves at Los Angeles International Airport in December 2017 after adopting him from the Afghanistan-based organization Nowzad.

McCarthy, who developed a friendship with the woman several years ago while she was in the process of adopting the first of two dogs from Nowzad, said on the morning of Aug. 20 she had not received any communication from her friend in the last 48 hours, and she continues to fear for her and her family. McCarthy said all she knows is that the woman, her husband and their child are in a secure location in the Kabul area and are awaiting instructions from U.S. officials about evacuation plans.

Family passed through Taliban checkpoints to reach airport in Kabul

According to an email McCarthy received from the woman on Aug. 18, her friend had been instructed by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to travel to the airport that day, where a flight out of the country awaited her and her family.

The woman's family succeeded in making it to the airport through several Taliban checkpoints that day, and she spoke to a U.S. Army MP at the gate, showing him her passport and relaying the missive she had received from the embassy. She said the MP said he would verify the information and return to the gate for her.

But she told McCarthy the MP never returned. After several hours, with the situation at the airport growing increasingly chaotic and the sound of gunfire filling the air, she and her family reluctantly decided to return to their shelter. They are now hoping to hear from U.S. officials again about another flight out of the country.

McCarthy said she has been lobbying almost nonstop on her friend's behalf for the past several days and has spoken to officials at the U.S. Army Command, the State Department and the U.S. Senate. She said she was encouraged by a conversation she had with a State Department official on Wednesday when she conveyed what had happened to the woman and her family at the Kabul airport. The State Department official took the woman's name, personal information and contact information and promised to elevate her case to priority status, McCarthy said.

"She said she was a bit confused as to why (the woman's scheduled flight out of the country on Wednesday) fell apart," McCarthy said.

'The best you could say is I'm cautiously optimistic'

USA TODAY on Friday reported that President Joe Biden said the U.S. evacuated 5,700 people from Afghanistan Thursday and the U.S. has secured the airport. He said military and civilian charter flights were evacuating civilians and vulnerable Afghans.

The president also acknowledged flights were paused for a few hours Friday due to processing issues for people arriving in certain unidentified countries. He said the flights have resumed.

All McCarthy can do now is wait, she said, indicating she hopes the lack of communication from her friend is a good thing — perhaps meaning that she and her family made it back to the airport and got on a flight out of Afghanistan and that they simply haven't had the means to let McCarthy know they are safe.

Roo, a rescue dog from the Afghanistan-based Nowzad organization, was adopted by Fruitland resident Ann Marie McCarthy in 2020.

But she fears the worst, knowing just how precarious the situation in Kabul is after the fall of the government, especially for women. McCarthy heaped praise on her friend, explaining that they have maintained their friendship since 2017 when McCarthy adopted her dog Jeeves from Nowzad in 2017 and later adopted a second dog, Roo, in 2020.

"She's totally amazing," said McCarthy, who recently retired but now serves as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.

The nonprofit organization has drawn international attention for its work to reunite stray dogs with the soldiers who rescued them, later evolving into a full-fledged animal adoption agency and veterinary facility. According to CNN, Farthing has vowed to get all 25 members of the organization's staff and their families out of the country, in addition to trying to secure the safety of the approximately 200 animals in the organization's care.

"The best you could say is I'm cautiously optimistic," McCarthy said of the status of the woman and her family. "On Sunday (the day Kabul fell to the Taliban), I was an absolute wreck. I was oscillating between crying and (being) angry."

Since then, McCarthy has channeled her efforts into trying to help the family, but she doesn't know if anything she has done has had an effect. In the meantime, she looks at the two pets she adopted from Afghanistan and thinks about her friend half a world away.

"It's really special having two of their dogs here," McCarthy said. "They have instantly become more precious to us."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.