‘I thought they would have our backs’: The plight of Afghan allies has been pushed back to the West

Update on Afghanistan

As a senior officer in Afghanistan’s former national intelligence agency, Feroze worked with US and NATO forces for several years, tracking Taliban activities and planning military action. The night the Taliban took Kabul, fighters came to his house to hunt him down; He avoided captivity because he took refuge with a friend.

Despite his deep involvement in the US-led war against the Taliban and the risk of retaliation, the former National Directorate of Security officer and his family remained stranded in Afghanistan during the tumultuous US exit. Although a well-armed U.S. military officer made a fierce phone call on his behalf, Feroze’s repeated attempts to board a military eviction flight at Kabul airport with his family failed.

Today, he, another senior Afghan military intelligence officer, Hamid and their wives and children are hiding in Pakistan, arriving after three days of dangerous land travel. From there, Jason Harpster, an veteran of the U.S. Army, is trying to help men and hopes to take those who worked closely with them during the war to the United States.

“I knew it was the death penalty if I was in Kabul,” Feroz told the Financial Times in a telephone interview. “It was good to die trying to get out,” he added.

In the two weeks since the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, the United States, its allies and private charter services have evacuated about 123,000 people from Afghanistan. Among them are foreign nationals and Afghans considered to be at high risk of persecution, such as military translators, journalists and public figures, including prominent women known to speak out.

But it was a chaotic and intriguing exodus as horrified crowds of Afghans struggled to get to the heavily guarded airport and board the flight before the escape windows were closed. When the last American flight left Kabul on August 10, thousands of people had been stranded in the US-led mission since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

They are terrified of being persecuted for their work and political views and are eagerly awaiting to see if they will find refuge abroad – and whether the Taliban will let them go.

“The United States has promised that it will not leave its friends behind, and it has done just that,” said Jane Brick Murtazashvili, an Afghanistan expert at the Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Afghans are trying to face many obstacles. Commercial flights have not resumed and while some regional airlines are operating charters, the cost is exorbitant, with a one-hour flight to Islamabad costing 1, 1,200. Afghanistan’s neighbors have tightened border controls to prevent the arrival of refugees, and visas are difficult for distant countries.

A traveler holds their passports as they prepare to board a flight from Kabul in September. Some have been able to leave Afghanistan on a regional charter but have faced additional costs © Karim Saheb / AFP via Getty Images

Just two weeks before the fall of Kabul, the U.S. government unveiled a priority refugee program for Afghan citizens who were employed by the U.S. government and military, U.S.-funded reconstruction projects or American media agencies and contractors. But eligible Afghans began compiling a large number of documents required for asylum under the project – including personal references from a U.S. government official. When the Taliban took over.

U.S. volunteer networks are now trying to help prepare their applications. “System that [the US] The setting is horribly bureaucratic, “said Murtazashvili, whose students are helping more than 4,000 people with documentation.” It’s painful, it’s brutal and it’s a form of bureaucratic torture. “

Others who have worked closely with U.S. missions but were not direct employees of the U.S. or American agencies are not eligible for this program.

Among them, Afghans have worked for the United Nations, which does not remove locally recruited staff as a matter of global policy, except in exceptional circumstances. Some are lying down, still hoping for help moving; Others are trying to work out their own exit strategies.

“We’re living a kind of mobile life – a few days at a relative’s house, then we sometimes come to my own house for a night or two, and then go to another relative’s house,” said a senior UN political official.

A UN official said the Taliban had given written assurances of safety to UN staff so that the agency could provide humanitarian relief. But many employees who have done political work are concerned.

“It was freedom of speech and we were easy to express our views, and some of those views were not compatible with Islamic culture,” one said.

When they enter Kabul, the Taliban promise that no one will be harmed by their past actions. But those at the forefront of the fight against militant groups have little faith in such promises.

Hamid said, “The enemy is the enemy, no matter what they say. “You can’t expect the person you’re fighting to let go of the past.”

Harpster, who won a bronze star medal for his service in Afghanistan, hopes to take the two men to the United States on humanitarian parole, which allows for temporary visits in case of emergency. He said the mission was not over. “We’ll continue until we get them home.”

Yet Feroze, who recalls his strong friendship with the United States and other foreign troops, was shocked to see how he was secretly wounded in Pakistan.

“I never expected the United States to leave the Taliban in power,” he said. “I thought they would be behind us. There was a lot of pride and a lot of enthusiasm for our work. I felt valued. And when you feel valued, you don’t think anyone will abandon you.

Video: Highlights of an FT customer webinar in Afghanistan

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