When the U.S. began its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Afghan Army instantly collapsed, Homeira Qaderi was marked for death at the hands of the Taliban. A celebrated author, academic, and champion for women's liberation, Homeira had achieved celebrity in her home country by winning custody of her son in a contentious divorce, a rarity in Afghanistan's patriarchal society. As evacuation planes departed above, Homeira was caught in the turmoil at the Kabul Airport, trying and failing to secure escape for her and her eight-year-old son, Siawash, along with her parents and the rest of their family.
Meanwhile, a young American diplomat named Sam Aronson was enjoying a brief vacation between assignments when chaos descended upon Afghanistan. Sam immediately volunteered to join the skeleton team of remaining officials at Kabul Airport, frantically racing to help rescue the more than 100,000 stranded Americans and their Afghan helpers. When Sam learned that the CIA had established a secret entrance into the airport two miles away from the desperate crowds crushing toward the gates, he started bringing families directly through, personally rescuing as many as fifty-two people in a single day.
On the last day of the evacuation, Sam was contacted by Homeira's literary agent, who persuaded him to help her escape. He needed to risk his life to get them through the gate in the final hours before it closed forever. He borrowed night-vision goggles and enlisted a Dari-speaking colleague and two heavily armed security contract "shooters." He contacted Homeira with a burner phone, and they used a flashlight code signal borrowed from boyhood summer camp. For her part, Homeira broke Sam's rules and withstood his profanities. Together they braved gunfire by Afghan Army soldiers anxious about the restive crowds outside the airport. Ultimately, to enter the airport, Homeira and Siawash would have to leave behind their family and everything they had ever known.
The Secret Gate tells the thrilling, emotional tale of a young man's courage and a mother and son's skin-of-the-teeth escape from a homeland that is no longer their own.
Mitchell Zuckoff is the author of eight previous works of nonfiction, including the #1 New York Times bestseller 13 Hours, as well as Frozen in Time and Lost in Shangri-La. As a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. Zuckoff’s honors include the Livingston Award for International Reporting, the Winship/PEN New England Award for Nonfiction, and the Heywood Broun Memorial Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and numerous other publications.
Sam Aronson is a global policy manager at Meta Platforms, where he advises company leadership on high-risk content issues and geopolitical crises. He has nearly a decade of foreign policy experience at the U.S. Department of State, having most recently deployed on the elite team sent to Kabul, Afghanistan in August 2021 to evacuate thousands of Americans and at-risk Afghans in the final weeks of the U.S. withdrawal. Sam’s career in the U.S. foreign service began in 2015 first as a diplomatic security special agent assigned to protect the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, then as deputy regional security officer in Niamey, Niger, and finally as a foreign service officer in Abuja, Nigeria, where he served as an advisor and staff aide to the U.S. Ambassador. Sam is the recipient of the State Department’s Heroism Award, the National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation, and has twice received the Department’s Superior Honor Award. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston and a master’s degree in comparative politics from The London School of Economics. Originally from New Jersey, Sam and his wife live in Washington, D.C., with their newborn daughter, Leila and dog, Stella.
Zuckoff and Aronson will be in conversation with Martha Raddatz. Raddatz is ABC News chief global affairs correspondent and co-anchor of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” She has covered national security, foreign policy and politics for decades—reporting from the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House and conflict zones around the world.