Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
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Foreign forces will leave behind those Afghans who have worked as translators, cooks, cleaners, and guards. (AFP)
Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
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Translators and their families will become more exposed as the Taliban fill the security vacuum. (AN photo/Sayed Salahuddin)
Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
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Translators and their families will become more exposed as the Taliban fill the security vacuum. (AN photo/Sayed Salahuddin)
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Updated 17 June 2021

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
  • Planned withdrawal by US and NATO troops will leave thousands of interpreters and other assistants exposed
  • Process of resettlement in Western countries complicated by need for recommendation letters and other documents

KABUL: Back in the spring of 2013, Tajik Mohammed was enjoying his leave in the small garden of his family home in the lush village of Kapisa when he learnt that the Taliban had put him on a blacklist. His crime? He was working as a translator for the US military.

Under cover of night, the high-school graduate was forced to flee 110 kilometers south to Kabul, the Afghan capital, where he has remained ever since. His family followed after the Taliban “threw a hand grenade one day” at their house, thinking he was there.

Mohammed, 32, worked for American troops in restive Ghazni province, which lies on the main highway leading to the Taliban’s bastion of support in the south.

He subsequently lost his job for failing to return to duty on time because he could not travel by air from Kapisa to Ghazni. He pointed out that if he had taken the trip by road, the Taliban would have killed him.

He and thousands like him are living in fear. In April, US President Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the estimated 3,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan by September, 20 years after the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.




Officials at the US embassy said they could not provide data on the percentage of applicants who had been turned down for special immigration visas or the number of former translators and employees who had been killed over the years. (AFP)

The withdrawals started on May 1. Departing with the American forces are their NATO allies and thousands of foreign military contractors. They leave behind those Afghans who have worked as translators, cooks, cleaners, and guards. Many are fearful that the militants will seek retaliation.

US-led efforts to reconcile the Taliban with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul have not borne fruit since talks began in Qatar last year.

Last week the Taliban, a grouping of mainly Pashtun militants who harbored Osama bin Laden and ruled Afghanistan for five years until 2001, said that they no longer considered the former employees of foreign forces as “foes.” But the militants noted that the workers needed to show “remorse” and should not use “danger” as an excuse to bolster their push for a “fake asylum case.”

In the past, the Taliban openly preached that Afghan translators should be killed. “You are a legitimate target for the Taliban even if you have served for one day for the foreign forces. 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 the group did not claim responsibility for the killings. We risked our lives while working for the foreign forces and now that they are leaving, there is no guarantee at all for our future and we face risk again,” 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 purpose of highlighting the voices and concerns of those who say they will be targeted once NATO forces leave.

Last week, ALBA held its first large-scale gathering under tight security in Kabul. A number of the former translators wore masks to protect their identities. No One Left Behind, an American non-profit organization that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the US, said that according to US media reports more than 300 translators or their relatives had been killed since 2014.

Omid Mahmoodi, an ALBA press officer, said the Taliban killed at least one member of the union, named as Sohail Pardis, as he was driving in Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.




In April, US President Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the estimated 3,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan by September. (AFP)

Another translator said he had moved to Kabul from his native Nangarhar province after receiving a threatening telephone call, naming him as an “apostate” who “deserved to be killed.”

Thousands have submitted applications for special immigration visas (SIVs) which allow them to emigrate to the US. Successful applicants need to prove that they served with US forces for at least two years and demonstrate that they provided “faithful and valuable service.”

This is usually attested by US military officers in the form of a letter of recommendation. Successful applicants typically also need to show that they have received evidence that they had been threatened. Those who are unsuccessful often lack documentation or are the subject of “derogatory information.”

The translators have been the eyes and ears for American troops and accompanied them during military campaigns against the Taliban and other militants. They have helped with the arrests of insurgents as well as the controversial searching of homes.

They have also acted as cultural advisers in what is a highly conservative society, helping foreign troops understand tribal, ethnic, and religious sensitivities, while in addition coordinating with Afghan forces.

Mohammed has recently applied for an SIV at the American embassy in Kabul. Thousands of translators from Afghanistan and Iraq have relocated to America using this mechanism as a reward for helping the US troops. “The answer I got through an embassy email asked me why I was terminated, where my recommendation letters were, etc,” he said.

“But the people we worked with in the US military have gone home, changed their addresses and even their profession, so it is tough for us to get hold of them, get the answers and pass them to the embassy here.”

Officials at the US embassy said they could not provide data on the percentage of applicants who had been turned down for an SIV or the number of former translators and employees who had been killed over the years.

Feraidoon, a 28-year-old former translator in Ghazni, told Arab News that he had had his SIV rejected in 2015 but had recently applied again. “The embassy says I do not have sufficient recommendation letters. We have no trust in the Taliban and see no commitment in them because they consider us as traitors, sell-outs and spies,” he said.

Mohammed Basir, 46, who worked for five years with French troops in Kapisa until 2013, said he had appeared in press conferences while translating on TV and had become a “known face” and feared reprisal. “The Taliban will spare no time to behead us if they capture people like me,” he added.




The Taliban said those who worked with foreign forces needed to show “remorse” and should not use “danger” as an excuse to bolster their push for a “fake asylum case.” (AN photo/Sayed Salahuddin)

A number of former translators whose cases were denied in the past have fled Afghanistan, according to ALBA. Akhtar Mohammed Shirzai escaped to India in 2013 with his family. He has been living there since in the hope that he will be able settle in a coalition country because he served with NATO’s media branch.

He applied for an SIV from India in 2016 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 anxiously.

On the Taliban’s offer of an amnesty, Shrizai said: “I heard about it, but I personally do not believe in that because the Taliban are not monolithic. There are different groups with different ideologies and 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 back in their villages and even in secure areas where they live. Residents of the area do not treat them well because of their service for the foreign forces.”

He noted that a friend and colleague had also wanted to move to Kabul because of security threats in Nangarhar but was killed by a bomb blast. “I hope the politicians in the US and other capitals take a wise decision on our fate,” he added.

Twitter: @sayedsalahuddin


After months of delays, Somalia postpones election amid threats of violence

Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

After months of delays, Somalia postpones election amid threats of violence

Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
  • The country’s Al-Shabab militants warned politicians last week against taking part in the vote

MOGADISHU: Somalia has postponed elections that were due to start on Sunday after months of delays in the deeply unstable Horn of Africa country, officials told AFP.

Indirect parliamentary and presidential polls were due to open on July 25 with four days of voting for the upper house by state delegates. The election cycle was due to end with a presidential poll on Oct. 10.
“Even though the plan was the upper house election to start around the various states today, there is a delay, the election may not take place as planned,” a member of the electoral commission said.
The delay was due to the fact that federal regions were neither able to submit candidates’ lists in time, nor to form local committees to cast the ballots, the source added.
A spokesman for the federal government, Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu, told AFP that the elections were “postponed,” without providing details.
Last week, the country’s Al-Shabab militants warned politicians against taking part in the elections, which were due to kick off after months of deadlock and delays.
The threat, in an audio message purportedly recorded by Al-Shabab leader Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, underscores the security challenges facing the election process in the country.
The Al-Qaeda-linked group has been fighting to overthrow the federal government since 2007 and frequently attacks government, security and civilian targets.
Somalia was plunged into an unprecedented constitutional crisis early this year, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the leaders of Somalia’s five states were unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.

SPEEDREAD

Somalia was plunged into an unprecedented constitutional crisis early this year, when the country’s leadership was unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.

After months of stalemate that at times turned violent, the political leaders finally agreed last month on a voting timetable.
According to the agreed plan, delegates from the five federal states, chosen by various clans in that state, elect parliamentarians, who then elect a president. The process was due to kick off on Sunday.
But according to several sources, the sole state that was capable of carrying out a vote “during the week” was Jubaland. The state has already chosen its delegate committee and could publish a list of candidates “during the week.”
“We are expecting the election to take place soon,” said Mohamed Adan, a senior government official in Jubaland. Another source said the electoral process could kick off in the state later on Sunday.
In Puntland state, sources said the elections were delayed because of “technical reasons.”
In Galmudug state, the local parliament is on a break and will reconvene in early August.
In South-West state, the process is blocked because the regional president is out of the country.
Somalia’s political impasse exploded into violence in April when negotiations collapsed and the lower house extended the president’s mandate by two years, sparking gunbattles on the streets of Mogadishu. Under pressure the president, commonly known as Farmajo, reversed the extension and ordered his prime minister to reconvene with the state leaders to chart a fresh roadmap toward elections.
The ballots follow a complex indirect model whereby special delegates chosen by the country’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.
Successive leaders have promised a direct vote but political infighting, logistical problems and the Al-Shabab insurgency has prevented such an exercise. The upper house vote will be followed by elections for the lower house from Sept. 12-Oct. 2, according to an updated timetable issued last week.
According to a statement issued in June, both assemblies were due to convene to vote for the president on October 10, but no date for this election was given in the updated timeline.
Somalia has not held a direct one-person, one-vote election since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup and went on to rule for two decades.
Barre’s military regime collapsed in 1991 and Somalia sank into anarchy.


Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade
Updated 26 July 2021

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade
  • The Russian leader’s boast comes days after military officials announced tests of advanced new weapons

PETERSBURG: President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that Russia’s navy was capable of delivering lethal strikes against underwater and aerial enemy targets during a parade of warships in the port city of Saint Petersburg.

The Russian leader’s boast comes days after military officials announced tests of advanced new weapons, some of which come from an arsenal Putin has described as “invincible.”

“The Russian navy today has everything it needs to guarantee the protection of our country and our national interests,” he said.

“We can detect underwater, surface or aerial enemies and target them if a lethal strike is necessary,” Putin said according to a broadcast on state television.

The Russian leader was speaking on the sidelines of an annual parade of military vessels, flanked by naval officers in white, and also Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Putin said Russia had secured its place among the world’s leading naval powers, including by developing “the latest hypersonic precision weapons still unrivaled in the world.”

The US, China, France and other major powers have announced plans to develop their own hypersonic weapons and are expected to soon catch up.

With the second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world and a huge cache of ballistic missiles, Russia already has more than enough military capacity to deter its enemies.


America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general
Updated 25 July 2021

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general
  • Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault
  • Taliban's assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts and border crossings

KABUL: The United States will continue air strikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday, as the insurgents press on with offensives across the country.
Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault just days after the US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
The Taliban's deadly assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.
"The United States has increased air strikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks," General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, told reporters in Kabul.
McKenzie acknowledged that there were tough days ahead for the Afghan government, but insisted that the Taliban were nowhere close to victory.
"The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong," he said.
"Taliban victory is not inevitable."
McKenzie's remarks came as Afghan officials in the southern province of Kandahar said fighting in the region had displaced about 22,000 families in the past month.
"They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas," Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee department, told AFP.
On Sunday, fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
"The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has made way for the Taliban to come that close," Lalai Dastageeri, deputy governor of Kandahar province, told AFP.
"We are now trying to organise our security forces."
Local authorities had set up four camps for the displaced people who are estimated to be about 154,000.
Kandahar resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his house had been taken over by the Taliban after he fled.
"They forced us to leave... I am now living with my 20-member family in a compound with no toilet," said Akbar.


UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID
Updated 25 July 2021

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID
  • “Please — if you haven’t yet — get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” Javid tweeted
  • Britain has one of the highest official COVID death tolls

LONDON: British health minister Sajid Javid was accused of insulting coronavirus victims on Sunday after urging people to take a COVID-19 vaccine and “learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Javid, who replaced Matt Hancock as health minister last month after his predecessor stepped down for breaking COVID rules by kissing an aide in his office, began his job by urging people to learn to live with the virus.
Britain, which has one of the highest official COVID death tolls, has shifted its strategy to fight coronavirus from using restrictions to limit its spread to opening up society in the hope vaccines will protect most people from serious illness.
Cases are high, but so is uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, and officials argue the shift is needed to help businesses in sectors such as hospitality and the night-time economy.
Writing on Twitter, Javid said on Saturday he had recovered after testing positive for COVID. “Symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines,” he said.
“Please — if you haven’t yet — get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, was one of several lawmakers from opposition parties and people who have lost family members to the pandemic to criticize his use of the phrase “cower from.”
“127,000 people have died from this virus, tens of thousands of whom would still be here if it wasn’t for the catastrophic failures of your government,” she said on Twitter.
“So how dare you denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe.”


Briton held in Somalia alleges torture by CIA-linked officials

David Taylor’s son has begged foreign secretary Dominic Raab, above, to intervene in his father’s case. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
David Taylor’s son has begged foreign secretary Dominic Raab, above, to intervene in his father’s case. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 25 July 2021

Briton held in Somalia alleges torture by CIA-linked officials

David Taylor’s son has begged foreign secretary Dominic Raab, above, to intervene in his father’s case. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • War on Terror practices including sensory deprivation, waterboarding still used, document claims

LONDON: A British citizen has raised concerns that highly controversial forms of torture and interrogation practices used during the War on Terror are still being employed by US-linked officials.

David Taylor, whose identity was made anonymous following a family request, claimed he was tortured in Somalia and interrogated by US intelligence officers.

The torture practices, Taylor alleges, were used by Somalian authorities to force him into CIA cooperation, and involved hooding, sensory deprivation and waterboarding.

His London-based family have warned that UK intervention in his case is essential to ending his two-year detention in the African country.

A document relating to the legal case also shows that Taylor was questioned by two US FBI agents in Mogadishu on June 30.

It says: “They asked the claimant whether he wished to live in the US. They also showed him pictures of various individuals asking him whether he knew them.”

One of the people Taylor was shown an image of was a man imprisoned for supporting the terror group Al-Shabaab. It suggests that the alleged CIA involvement is aimed at targeting the Somalian-based militant group, which has launched dozens of deadly attacks around east Africa.

Taylor moved to Somalia in 2009 and was arrested a decade later in 2019 after visiting Yemen to organize his return to London.

He was transferred to Mogadishu, arrested and driven to a location near Mogadishu by anonymous individuals, who Taylor alleges were CIA agents.

The legal document stated: “He found himself in a room with a white lady and a white man. The lady spoke in an American accent and identified herself as ‘Roxanne.’ Taylor asked her to confirm the agency or organization she represented but she refused to do so.”

It added that Taylor subsequently faced daily interrogation, including having a gun pointed at his head after refusing to cooperate.

Later that year, he was transferred to a Mogadishu prison, where he currently lives in a cell with about 60 other prisoners. Taylor said that he has received death threats from other prisoners and has been accused of operating as a British spy.

His son said: “My dad has been left to languish in a foreign prison, in dangerous conditions, without charge or any proper reason. He is a UK citizen and he has had no support from his country. To know that my dad has faced torture, interrogation and violent threats to his life is terrifying and extremely distressing.

“I am heartbroken and afraid of what might happen to him if he stays there any longer. How can this still be allowed to happen?”