PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A baby who became an international symbol of the chaos and desperation in Afghanistan last month is now living with her family in the Phoenix area. On Aug. 19, as the Taliban seized control of Kabul, a journalist posted a nine-second video of a baby being hoisted up to a Marine. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her safely over a barbed-wire fence. For days, no one knew what became of the baby or her parents. Only now is the full story behind her complicated and harrowing escape emerging.

Aghan baby over barbed wire

Hameed helped stabilize the Marine's legs, which allowed him to lean over far enough to grab Liya by her right arm, and lift her over the barbed wire.

Liya, who is now 8 weeks old, was just 16 days old when her parents decided to flee. "When she's older, I'll tell her she's a fighter. She made it through the worst of times at the beginning of her life," her father, Hameed, said.

We are not publishing their full names for security reasons, as they still have family members in hiding in Afghanistan. Hameed worked as a linguist and cultural advisor for military officials in Kabul. Over his five years of service as an "Afghan ally," he would routinely attend high-level meetings at the Presidential Palace, the U.S. Embassy, and other secure sites.

For the entire month of August, Hameed lived at the airport in Kabul, helping U.S. Marines with evacuations. He was unable to leave the secure area, and therefore unable to even meet or hold his newborn baby. While phone lines were often jammed from his position at the airport, Hameed was able to call his wife, Sadia, who'd had a difficult delivery.

By Aug. 12, it became clear that she would have to gather the strength to flee their home, to save herself and their baby. "We got intel that people were getting killed, or going missing. By my affiliation [with the military], I knew my home would be next. It wasn't a matter of 'if,' but 'when,'" Hameed said.

On Aug. 19, his wife gathered their belongings, forms of identification, cash, and clothing and set off to the airport with her newborn. She would soon lose all of it, aside from her baby, at a checkpoint near the airport.

While the Taliban pledged cooperation during the evacuation process, the reality on the ground was very different. Sadia says they took all of their IDs, her gold, cash, and their passports. Sadia and Liya joined the chaotic crush of people trying to jam through a small opening in the gate at the airport.

Hameed could see them from the other side of the fence. "They were using water cannons and flashbangs to control the crowd. Every time a bang went off, I could see my daughter start screaming and crying. I couldn't do anything to help," Hameed remembers.

He watched for hours as others in the crowd were beaten by members of the Taliban. Several people made it through the gate with broken arms and other severe wounds. "I knew she'd never make it through. She'd be crushed to death, God forbid, or severely injured," Hameed said.

He reached out to a Marine standing on a vehicle, along the barbed-wire fence, and pointed out his baby on the other side. "He told me the only thing he could do was lift her over the barbed wire, but he said she'd be hurt. I told him I'll take the chance. I'd rather her get hurt than die," he said.

The Marine agreed. Hameed helped stabilize the Marine's legs, which allowed him to lean over far enough to grab Liya by her right arm, and lift her over the barbed wire. That was the moment Hameed got to meet his newborn for the first time. He held her for two minutes, before returning to help with the evacuations. Sadia had collapsed from exhaustion, and he still had to figure out how to get her through the gate.

Hameed handed Liya to a Marine, not knowing where she'd be taken or when they'd be able to reunite. "That day I handed over my baby to a total stranger. The only thing I trusted is that he was a Marine, and that my daughter would be safe," he said.

Several hours later, after Sadia made it through the gate, Hameed went to search for his baby. Later that day, all three were put on a plane out of Kabul with other evacuees. "What was heartbreaking is, I was inside and had somebody to pull my daughter over the wire. There were thousands of others who didn't have that opportunity," Hameed said.

Until they landed on American soil, they had no idea the video of their daughter over the fence had gripped the world's attention. People everywhere were wondering if she'd survived and where she was. "I was surprised. It made me emotional," Hameed said when he learned that so many people had connected with the video.

Hameed and Sadia

Until they landed on American soil, they had no idea the video of their daughter over the fence had gripped the world's attention.

"I think it was very captivating to see what was actually happening. It's one thing for politicians to go on TV and say how fine things are. It's totally something else on the ground, and when you can see it with your own eyes," he said.

While the family is relieved to be temporarily staying with friends in the Phoenix area, they know they're about to start a new struggle. They have no forms of identification, and both Liya and Sadia are in need of medical care. "I'm in kind of a pickle right now because I can't take her to a doctor. I can't get her insurance. She doesn't have a Social (Security number). We've applied for it, but God knows how long it'll take," Hameed said.

Arizona man hopes to help friend stuck in Afghanistan

He set up a GoFundMe account for anyone who would like to help them get on their feet. He also hopes to one day be able to find and meet the Marine who agreed to help his baby in Kabul. "Oh my God. I'd give him a hug. He literally saved my daughter's life," Hameed said.


Copyright 2021 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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