Betrayed: Is The World Abandoning Helpful Afghans?

Their Track Record of Serving Foreign Troops and Agencies Has Put Them in The Taliban’s Line of Fire
Afghan former interpreters for the US and NATO forces gather during a demonstration in downtown Kabul on April 30, 2021, on the eve of the beginning of Washington's formal troop withdrawal -- although forces have been drawn down for months. (Getty)
Wounded people receive treatments at a hospital following an attack by masked gunmen which killed 10 people working for the HALO Trust mine-clearing organisation, at Pol-e-Khomri in Baghlan Province on June 9, 2021. (Getty)

On June 8, gunmen shot dead 10 Afghans working for the international demining organization the Halo Trust in an attack on their camp in the north of the country. While Halo did not officially blame the Taliban, Afghan officials say that the attack had all the hallmarks of a Taliban killing. The attack left 16 more Halo workers injured.

The Halo Trust is the largest demining organization in Afghanistan. The Taliban often attack demining workers because, government officials say, the workers often help to defuse roadside bombs that the insurgents have planted.

An attack by the Taliban is a nightmare facing many Afghans who have been working in different capacities with foreign troops and aid agencies even since the Biden administration began formally withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, opening the final chapter in America’s longest-ever war. Since then, there has been a marked increase in violence in Afghanistan where the Taliban are fighting government troops in 26 out of 34 provinces. Addressing the Afghan translators, interpreters, de-mining technicians and security guards who worked with foreign governments and agencies, the Taliban has said ominously that Afghans who assisted foreign forces in the country over the last 20 years would "not be in any danger" as long as they show "remorse."

However the ground reality shows that these workers and their families face harassment and threats almost daily. Aid workers, particularly women, are facing increased attacks and harassment as they go about their work. The more than 17,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. forces and their family members, are petitioning the U.S. government to fast-track their immigration under the U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Many have waited for years after going through security checks with practically every U.S. government agency imaginable, often at their own expense for health screenings and other requirements. The situation has only become more dire of late with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul halting visa applicant interviews because of an escalating COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan.

Translators who worked for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have been holding demonstrations across Afghanistan, demanding asylum and the right to escape Taliban revenge, after Washington announced all American troops would be withdrawn by September.

The US, UK, Germany and Belgium have announced plans to provide asylum for these workers but red tape and the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed the process considerably.

Of these countries, Afghans who worked for Germany say they feel the most abandoned.

"We have been identified by the Taliban militants and we have a lot of concerns. We fear for our lives," says former translator to German troops, Wahid Abdul, adding, "We cannot go anywhere, we cannot go outside."

Another former frontline translator to the Germans, Shohaib Ahmad Samadi, said bitterly, "The embassy told me to stop calling. They have completely closed the door on my case. I have been working more than nine years with them. I have experienced the toughest situation that each brave German soldier felt in Afghanistan. And they know I still have contact with a lot of German mentors and they say 'Hey Samadi, I can't do anything for you right now.’”

Afghans who worked for Belgium are now looking at easier immigration procedures after Belgium's defense minister Ludivine Dedonder said the country could take in around 30 Afghans who had worked with its military during the NATO mission, as the alliance wraps up a two-decade deployment.

She added that decisions would be taken on a "case-by-case" basis and one man considered to be at risk was already being moved to Belgium with his family.

"His arrival will of necessity be rapid since there is a danger to this person. It will happen around the same time as our troops, with his partner and his child," Dedonder told broadcaster RTBF.

Britain, meanwhile, has set up an official repatriation system to ensure all former Afghan translators with a year of frontline experience are resettled in the UK.

For now, Afghans are aware that their frontline track record, their letters of commendation and their might not be enough to save their lives.