KABUL: The Taliban pledged on Monday not to target Afghans who worked with US-led foreign troops in the past after several said in recent weeks that they fear retribution from the group once Washington ends its nearly 20-year occupation of Afghanistan.
In a statement released on Monday, the Taliban called on interpreters to “return to their normal lives and … serve their country,” adding that “they shall not be in any danger” on the group’s part.
For several weeks, Afghan interpreters said they were likely to be assassinated by militant groups for assisting American troops during their decades-long fight against the Taliban, which has labeled most as “traitors and collaborators.”
Washington was heavily reliant on the language skills and cultural knowledge of local translators — with many well-versed in English, Dari and Pashtu — to interpret conversations.
The translators’ fears increased manifold following an announcement by US President Joe Biden to withdraw the remaining 3,500 troops from the country by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
Since 2014, nonprofit organization No One Left Behind has cataloged more than 300 cases in which the Taliban and other terrorist groups have killed interpreters or family members — many of whom were waiting for visas to the US — while a 2014 report by International Refugee Assistance Project, a nonprofit based in New York City, estimated that an Afghan interpreter was being killed every 36 hours.
The Taliban said it considered “such Afghans as foes” for working in the “ranks of our enemies.”
“But when they abandon enemy ranks and opt to live as ordinary Afghans in their homeland, they should not remain fearful and should continue living a serene life in their own country,” the statement said.
The reactions prompted US-led coalition nations such as the UK, Australia, and Germany to accelerate the Special Immigration Visas (SIV) allotment process for former Afghan interpreters and their families.
Aimed at supporting Afghans who came under threat for their work with the US military and other entities, the SIV program involves a lengthy application process with an average waiting time of three years.
It has faced delays since last year due to disruptions caused by the pandemic.
According to the US State Department, nearly 13,000 SIVs have been granted to Afghan nationals since 2014. Recently, Washington vowed to provide SIVs to 18,000 Afghan translators and their families, as several await their fate.
“If they are using danger as an excuse to bolster their fake asylum case abroad, then that is their problem,” the Taliban said.
With hopes waning for the success of US-sponsored talks between the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani’s government to end Afghanistan’s protracted conflict, some local and foreign officials believe that the Taliban will try to regain power by force.
Since the US began withdrawing its troops on May 1, the Taliban have made territorial gains in several regions across the country either through violent strikes or after national forces surrendered to the group.
The militants have taken control of at least 10 districts in recent weeks and captured the district of Shahrak in the central Ghor province overnight.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed the reports to Arab News but reiterated that the government “withdrew the troops to prevent casualties among civilians” in the area.
Experts say the Taliban’s statement was aimed at assuaging fears.
“Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future given that talks have yielded no fruit. People are concerned about their future, and those who can afford to are leaving,” Taj Mohammed, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.
“The Taliban want to reassure outsiders and others who worked for foreign forces that they will not be attacked. All sides have their stories here. But I do not know how convincing the Taliban assurance will be for the translators,” he added.