Afghan translators of departing foreign troops face a deadly threat: Taliban retaliation
KABUL: In the spring of 2013, the Tajik Mohammed was enjoying his vacation in the small garden of his parents’ house in the lush village of Kapisa when he learned that the Taliban had blacklisted him. His crime? He worked as a translator for the US military.
Under cover of night, the high school graduate had to flee 110 kilometers south to the Afghan capital Kabul, where he has stayed since then. His family followed after the Taliban “threw a hand grenade” at their home one day because they thought he was there.
Mohammed, 32, worked for American troops in troubled Ghazni province, on the main road leading to the Taliban support bastion in the south.
He later lost his job because he could not return to duty in time because he could not travel by plane from Kapisa to Ghazni. He pointed out that the Taliban would have killed him if he had started the journey on the street.
He and thousands like him live in fear. In April, US President Joe Biden announced that the estimated 3,500 US soldiers stationed in Afghanistan would be withdrawn by September, 20 years after the Al Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington, DC
The withdrawal actions began on May 1st. With the American armed forces, their NATO allies and thousands of foreign military companies break out. They leave behind the Afghans who worked as translators, cooks, cleaners and guards. Many fear that the militants will seek retaliation.
The US-led efforts to reconcile the Taliban with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul have not borne fruit since the talks began in Qatar last year.
Last week, the Taliban, a group of mostly Pashtun fighters that hosted Osama bin Laden and ruled Afghanistan for five years until 2001, said they no longer regard former foreign military personnel as “enemies”. The militants noted, however, that workers should show “repentance” and not use “danger” as an excuse to increase their urge for a “bogus asylum procedure”.
In the past, the Taliban openly preached that Afghan translators should be killed. “You are a legitimate target for the Taliban, even if you served for the foreign armed forces for a day. I have no faith in the Taliban’s promise, ”Mohammed told Arab News.
“Who killed so many journalists and civil society activists? Of course (it was) the Taliban. But they took no responsibility for them. We risked our lives working for the foreign forces and now that they are leaving there is no guarantee of our future at all and we are again at risk, ”he said.
Mohammed is a member of the Afghans Left Behind Association (ALBA), a union of 2,000 former translators and workers. The group was recently formed with the aim of highlighting the voices and concerns of those who say they will be targeted after the withdrawal of NATO forces.
Last week, ALBA held its first large gathering under tight security in Kabul. Some of the former translators wore masks to protect their identities. No One Left Behind, an American non-profit organization that campaigns for Afghan interpreters to relocate to the United States, said more than 300 translators or their relatives had been killed since 2014, according to US media reports.
Omid Mahmoodi, an ALBA spokesman, said the Taliban killed at least one union member named Sohail Pardis while driving in Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
Another translator said he moved to Kabul from his home province of Nangarhar after receiving a threatening phone call calling him a “renegade” who “deserved to be killed.”
Thousands have applied for special immigrant visas (SIVs) that will allow them to emigrate to the United States. Successful applicants must provide evidence that they have served in the US Forces for at least two years and that they have provided “loyal and valuable service”.
This is usually certified by US military officers in the form of a letter of recommendation. Successful applicants also usually need to demonstrate that they have received evidence that they have been threatened. Those who do not succeed often have no records or are the subject of “derogatory information”.
The translators were the eyes and ears of the American troops and accompanied them on campaigns against the Taliban and other militants. You have helped arrest insurgents as well as controversial house searches.
They have also acted as cultural advisors in a very conservative society, helping foreign troops understand tribal, ethnic and religious sensitivities while additionally coordinating with the Afghan armed forces.
Mohammed recently applied for an SIV at the American embassy in Kabul. Thousands of translators from Afghanistan and Iraq have moved to America using this mechanism to help US troops. “The reply I received through an embassy email asked me why I was fired, where my letters of recommendation were, etc.,” he said.
“But the people we worked with in the US military have gone home, changed their address and even changed their job, so it is difficult for us to reach them, get the answers and get them here at the embassy to pass on. “
U.S. Embassy officials said they could not provide any information on the percentage of applicants who were rejected for SIV or the number of former translators and employees killed over the years.
Feraidoon, a 28-year-old former translator in Ghazni, told Arab News that his SIV was rejected in 2015 but recently reapplied. “The embassy says I don’t have enough letters of recommendation. We have no trust in the Taliban and see no obligation in them because they see us as traitors, sellers and spies, ”he said.
Mohammed Basir, 46, who worked with French forces in Kapisa for five years until 2013, said he appeared at press conferences while translating on television and had become a “familiar face” and feared reprisals. “The Taliban will not waste time beheading us if they capture people like me,” he added.
A number of former translators whose cases have been rejected in the past have fled Afghanistan, according to the ALBA. Akhtar Mohammed Shirzai fled to India with his family in 2013. Since then he has lived there in the hope that he will be able to settle in a coalition country because he has served in the NATO media department.
In 2016 he applied for an SIV from India, but was rejected because he did not have a letter of recommendation from his superiors in Kabul. He applied again in May and is now waiting eagerly.
Regarding the Taliban’s amnesty offer, Shrizai said: “I have heard of it, but personally I do not believe in it because the Taliban are not monolithic. There are different groups with different ideologies and ways of thinking among them. “
In Kabul, Ayazuddin Hilal, who worked for American forces in a number of regions, said the former translators “could not attend wedding ceremonies or funerals in their villages and even in the safe areas where they live. The residents of the area do not treat them well because of their service to the foreign armed forces. “
He found that a friend and colleague wanted to move to Kabul because of security threats in Nangarhar, but was killed in a bomb explosion. “I hope that politicians in the US and other capitals will make a wise decision about our fate,” he added.