KABUL, Afghanistan — An American woman in Kabul is scrambling to evacuate her Afghan staff and dozens of the rescue animals they care for. With the countdown to a full U.S. troop withdrawal just days away, she’s been ordered by the Taliban to leave.
For the last three years, Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, an archeologist turned animal activist, has worked in Afghanistan to care for the war-torn nation’s most vulnerable creatures.
“There are 50,000 street dogs and many of them are horrifically injured. It was just it was a need,” said Maxwell-Jones.
She started the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, a veterinary clinic and animal rescue in the bustling city to fill that need.
“We get animals with their ears cut off, animals beaten, stoned, purposefully run over by cars, shot. There's not a whole lot of compassion for animals here,” she said.
But with the impending American troop withdrawal later this month and the stunning Taliban takeover, everything changed in an instant.
This week, a group of Taliban guards came knocking.
“He told me that I needed to leave immediately. And I said that I couldn't leave without the staff and animals. We all have to go together,” said Maxwell-Jones.
There are now four Taliban guards posted outside her house, she says.
Maxwell-Jones, a single woman in Kabul, is not allowed to venture out without full covering or a male chaperon.
“I do hear the Taliban say that they want women in the workplace and a respectful environment for women. But it seems, simply looking around, that they prefer a society in which women are not seen or heard.”
A quarter of her staff of 40 is made up of women. Some have young children and elderly parents. She’s trying to get them all out safely.
“Our mission has radically changed in the past few weeks, and we are trying to evacuate all animals and all staff.”
Right now, the shelter is home to some 230 animals from four different rescues and a security contractor company that utilized bomb-sniffing dogs.
Through online efforts, the rescue has managed to secure most of the funding for a cargo plane, but visas have become a challenge and their charter plane does not have permission to pick them up.
“They have told me to leave first. It’s very obvious what will happen if I leave first,” she said in an emotional online plea that has since gone viral.
Maxwell-Jones is hoping someone with the right connections can help her organization obtain the required landing permit and airstrip entry to the heavily fortified Kabul Airport.
“We need political capital, but this is not just us,” she said. “It's got to be in the 80,000 or 90,000 people will be affected by this rule of only allowing U.S. citizens into the airport. I mean, it's an atrocious rule, and it will lead to the deaths of many tens of thousands of people,” said Maxwell-Jones.
As for the animals, if forced to leave them behind she fears they might have to make a heart-wrenching decision.
“If we have to leave and there's absolutely no way to take care of them, we would euthanize them because they wouldn't know how to live on the street anymore, and they would die pretty horrible deaths.”
It’s a decision she hopes she’ll never have to make.