By Anne Claire D. Andaya-Nauts
Anne Claire D. Andaya-Nauts arrived in Kabul, July 14, to serve as the special assistant to the Executive Office. She had previously served at Embassy Kabul in 2017-2018, and closely followed the post’s reporting and cables to prepare for her second tour. Familiar with this dynamic and challenging work environment, Andaya-Nauts was not surprised by the non-stop pace of operations once she hit the ground.
The ambassador and deputy chief of mission’s calendars were maxed out with meetings with other Department of State leaders, the host government, U.S. military officials, and a host of other agencies to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
“My primary job was to keep the paper moving from all sections to the Front Office of the Department—and there was a lot of it. Colleagues from all over were reading the situation reports, and family and friends were monitoring the news,” said Andaya-Nauts. “Hundreds of messages started pouring in to all our social media accounts, asking if we were okay. Our situation definitely looked terrible to those on the outside, and I had to keep reassuring my parents that I was safe.”
On Aug. 15, Andaya-Nauts attended a morning meeting in which a plan was made for the ambassador to leave the embassy at a certain date and time and move to an alternate location. Despite the embassy sending alerts and messages for several months that advised American citizens to leave the country, there was still a sizable population that was hesitant to uproot themselves. Embassy leaders hoped that the ambassador’s departure would send a clear signal that people should immediately take action.
Almost immediately after the planning meeting, it became clear that the departure timeline would need to move up significantly. Taliban forces had overtaken most of the country’s provincial capitals in less than nine days, and were already active in Kabul.
“We could hear gunfire in the distance, and we all put on our personal protective equipment. Everyone was moving quickly to pack last-minute items, destroy what needed to be destroyed, say goodbye to friends, and get to the flight line,” said Andaya-Nauts.
The regional security officers and I did our best to rid the executive suite of any remaining critical items. By the early afternoon, I was watching the Marines lower our flag, and 15 minutes later, the ambassador and his staff were on a helicopter to the airport—which would be our home and office for the next two weeks.
Andaya-Nauts and her colleagues spent the last two weeks of August helping to process U.S. citizens and Afghans through airport gates to catch military transport flights to Qatar, and other lily pad destinations.
“The whole thing was intense—sleeping only a couple hours each night, unaccompanied minors, thousands of people inside and outside the airport, constant gunfire and flashbangs,” said Andaya-Nauts. “Seeing the looks on people’s faces as they ran to us, we could only imagine what they had gone through to get to us. When I saw one of my male local staff come through one of the gates, we hugged each other, something that would never have happened before. Each day was rough, but all of us—diplomats, contractors, and military—were committed to helping those outside the gates, and each other.”
Anne Claire D. Andaya-Nauts is chief of staff in the Office of the Coordinator for Afghan Relocation Efforts. She served as the special assistant to the Executive Office at Embassy Kabul.