As the first anniversary of the disastrous US pullout from Afghanistan approaches, a victim of one of its most gruesome tragedies finally has a name.
Zabi Rezayee, 17, was one of the desperate civilians who clung to the landing gear and wheel covers of a US Air Force C-17 as it taxied down the runway of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 16, 2021 — only to fall to his death on the tarmac, his father told the Sunday Times of London.
And Zabi’s brother Zaki, 19, who joined his attempted escape from the Taliban, has not been heard from since, said Mohammed Rezayee.
“I’m hurting, I’m angry, but there’s nothing I can do,” Rezayee, 42, said. “I’ve buried one son and I don’t even know if the other one is dead or alive.”
Horrifying cell-phone videos of the young men who grabbed hold of the giant cargo plane on take-off, then dropped helplessly to the ground as it gained altitude, gripped the globe as America’s war in Afghanistan came to its chaotic and ignominious end.
At least five would-be stowaways were killed, although the exact number was never determined. Two landed in a residential neighborhood, splattering blood all over a homeowner’s roof. One was found crushed in the plane’s wheel well when it landed in Qatar.
And two, including Zabi, smashed back down to the runway.
“I blame the pilot and I blame the Americans who were responsible for the airport security,” Rezayee, a father of eight, said bitterly.
“Why did the pilot make the decision to take off when he knew people were holding onto the aircraft?” the distraught dad asked. “I don’t think those clinging on really believed the plane would leave.”
The Air Force cleared the plane’s crew of wrongdoing last month, Military.com reported.
The teenagers didn’t tell their parents of their plans to flee the country.
“I found out when I got a call from them at the airport,” their father said. “They sounded excited, they said they were about to board the plane. I was happy for them, happy that they were leaving to somewhere safe because we were all so terrified of what would happen here with the Taliban in control.”
The call lasted only a minute or two. “That was the last time I spoke to them,” he said.
Minutes later, a stranger called Rezayee from Zabi’s phone.
“The guy on my son’s phone said they found Zabi’s dead body,” Rezayee told Vice News this week. He ran the four miles to the airport. “I found him in pieces.” Someone had draped a scarf over the teen’s bare, broken lower half.
But the father’s search of Kabul’s hospitals and jails turned up no sign of Zaki, his oldest boy.
“To this day, I’ve never received any information about Zaki,” he said. His “tormented” wife “says a little prayer every time she hears her phone ring, desperately hoping it will be some news.”
“It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest to deal with,” he said.
“They were kind boys. They liked to play football,” Rezayee recalled. “They were educated. Zaki could speak English. He used to teach his younger siblings a bit.”
The family has struggled as the Taliban’s grip sent half the country’s people into near-starvation. Without his sons’ help, Rezayee said, he could no longer run his fruit and vegetable shop.
“It feels like a waste of time to be angry about my sons. I have to use that energy to find a way to support my remaining children,” he said.
“But I would give anything to know what happened to Zaki.”