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


UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID

UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID
Updated 31 July 2021

UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID

UK research: Double vaccine dose halves risk of long COVID
  • Long COVID includes lingering symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and problems with concentration
  • COVID-19 levels differ between men and women, according to other UK research

LONDON: People who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine are 50 percent less likely to suffer from long COVID, a UK scientific advisory body has said.
Long COVID includes lingering symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and problems with concentration.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said UK government statistics found that “in all age groups the odds of experiencing symptoms for more than 28 days after post-vaccination infection was approximately halved by two vaccinations.”
But women, older people and those who are overweight or obese are more likely to have lingering symptoms, with fatigue the most frequently reported, the group said.
SAGE added that the proportion of people suffering from symptoms 12 weeks after COVID-19 infection varied between 2.3 percent and 37 percent depending on studies, leading to uncertainty among scientists.
But the group said it has high confidence in research showing that just 1.2 percent of young adults and 4.8 percent of middle-aged people reported symptoms limiting their daily lives.
COVID-19 levels differ between men and women, according to other UK research. Men are more likely to have shortness of breath, exhaustion, chills and fever, while women are more likely to experience loss of scent, chest pain and a persistent cough.


600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days
Updated 31 July 2021

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days
  • Increase in departures recalls 2011, when 25,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy during Arab Spring
  • Number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy has risen since early 2021 due to economic crisis, COVID-19 spike

ROME: Nearly 600 migrants reached the Italian island of Lampedusa from Tunisia in only two days. 
Countless departures of people fleeing the crisis-wracked North African country and attempting to reach Europe on dinghies and small boats are reported every hour by NGOs and Italian Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Channel of Sicily.
Only on Saturday, by midday, 99 migrants landed in Lampedusa on six different small boats. Before their arrival, 1,137 people were already present at the center in Contrada Imbriacola, well above the facility’s maximum capacity of 250.
“They arrive every hour, like a news bulletin,” Vincenzo Pandolfo, who owns a shop in the port of Lampedusa, told Arab News
“It seems that there is not much control on the Tunisian shores lately. We have not seen so many dinghies coming toward Lampedusa, and now even trying to reach the south of Sardinia, which is a much further and more dangerous trip, as we have since July 26, when the political crisis broke out in Tunisia,” Adm. Roberto Isidori, commander of the Coast Guard in Sicily, told Arab News.
“Our vessels are all out to make sure that no accident happens, but this situation is getting worse and worse”, Isidori added.
Italian security services had estimated at the beginning of the crisis that the ongoing political turmoil and instability in Tunisia may result in a drastic increase in migrants, with numbers potentially reaching up to 15,000 in a very short time.
But Isidori said that “if numbers continue to stay as they have been in the last week, that could be an optimistic forecast.”  
As a rule, Tunisians are not eligible for asylum in Italy, and up to 80 could be flown home each week under a deal reached between Rome and Tunisia last year.
The remainder are often given expulsion orders and released from migrant centers. Many then try to reach France or Germany.
The increase in departures has prompted fears of a repeat of 2011, when 25,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy during the Arab Spring uprising.
The number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy has been on the rise since the beginning of 2021 due to the worsening economic crisis at home, which was exacerbated by a dramatic spike of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and a lack of vaccines.
Good weather conditions have also encouraged migrants to attempt the dangerous crossing.
Nearly 1,000 have died on route between the shores of North Africa and Sicily this year, up from 267 in the same period last year, including around 57 migrants who drowned this week when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast.
The Interior Ministry’s records show that out of a total of 28,515 illegal migrants who arrived in Italy so far this year, a big part came from Tunisia, which far outstrips those from any other country, including Libya. From January to June, 2,962 crossed to Italy, with another 3,796 sailing this month.


UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates
Updated 31 July 2021

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates
  • Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE): “Realistic possibility” future strains could be as fatal as MERS
  • SAGE also warned that COVID-19 can infect common animal species including minks

LONDON: Future COVID-19 variants could have fatality rates of up to 35 percent, top UK government scientists have warned in a new report.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said it is a “realistic possibility” that future variants could prove as fatal as MERS, which has a death rate of 35 percent.
The chance of deadly COVID-19 mutations increases depending on the prevalence of the virus, the report said, adding that rapid vaccine rollouts worldwide will increase immunity levels, thereby forcing variants to mutate at a faster and more deadly pace.
The advisory body warned that future strains could become resistant to vaccines if they originate from the beta variant and combine with the alpha or delta variants, in a process called recombination.
And even with vaccines being expected to neutralize serious disease among COVID-19 patients, the report said a higher death rate is to be expected in the case of new deadly variants given that vaccines “do not provide total sterilizing immunity.”
SAGE also warned that COVID-19 can infect common animal species including minks, which some countries have taken to culling.
In response to the potential threat from animals — including dogs, cats, mice, rats and ferrets — becoming a host for future deadly variants, the group suggested that mass culling or animal vaccination programs should be considered by governments.


Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
Updated 31 July 2021

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
  • Violence has surged across Afghanistan since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive
  • The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province

HERAT, Afghanistan: Afghan and Taliban forces clashed again on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, a day after a police guard was killed when a United Nations compound in the western city came under attack.
Violence has surged across the country since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive as US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete.
The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan.
Officials and residents reported renewed fighting on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, with hundreds fleeing their homes to seek shelter closer to the heart of the city.
Herat governor Abdul Saboor Qani said most of the fighting was in Injil and Guzara district — where the airport is located.
“At the moment the fighting is ongoing in the south and southeast. We are moving cautiously and to avoid civilian casualties,” Qani said.
During fighting Friday, the main Herat compound of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire that the UN blamed on anti-government elements.
The militants say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before.
Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city of 600,000 in recent days.
Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hard-line regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months.


Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
Updated 31 July 2021

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
  • Gen. Lord Richards: “Ungoverned space” will create opportunities for terror groups

LONDON: A former head of the UK armed forces has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outline the country’s strategy for Afghanistan as the war-torn nation slides into further conflict amid the Taliban’s advance.
Gen. Lord Richards, former chief of defense staff, said he is “fed up” with the government’s lack of planning for the next stage of supporting Afghanistan, where he served as the commander of coalition forces between 2006 and 2007. He lamented the West’s “defeat” in the country. 
With Western forces lined up to be fully removed by Sept. 11, Richards warned of the potential creation of an “ungoverned space” that could be exploited by terror groups for the planning of atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks.
He told the BBC that he takes a “share of the blame” for the West’s calamitous performance in Afghanistan, but that while NATO military force — chiefly from the US and Britain — largely achieved what was expected, politicians had failed to give Afghanistan sufficient economic and political support following the 2001 removal of the Taliban from power. 
“We have invested — as a country, as the West and the US particularly — 20 years of time and much money and many lives in Afghanistan,” said Richards.
“I’m getting a little bit fed up that I’ve not heard from our government — indeed from the prime minister — as to why we have reached this nadir. It’s really not good enough, and I would like to hear from the government — I think it’s a prime ministerial obligation now — as to why we’ve got into this position and what we are now going to do about it,” he added.
“It’s deflecting attention from our defeat. Added to what happened in Iraq, Libya, Syria, it’s a pretty sorry tale of Western failed geo-strategy over the last 20 years. And it’s time we had an explanation of why and what are we now going to do about it, to prevent it from happening in the way we all now fear might occur.”
The decorated former officer complained that following the invasion, the UN conducted a “light-touch” approach masterminded by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, which meant the West failed to build on the military gains of 2001. 
Richards said the short supply of economic support meant that the Taliban returned as a threat five years later.
“As all soldiers will tell you, we know we can’t win these things by military means alone. What we hoped we were doing was providing an opportunity for governments, the whole of the West, to act in the way they needed, not just militarily but politically and economically,” he added.
“That didn’t happen … At the very moment, in 2002 to 2005, when the West should have poured in assets — and I’m talking primarily non-military by the way — we didn’t do so. The Taliban sensed an opportunity, they came back.”
Richards warned that the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar — Afghanistan’s second city — is “inevitable” without a change in strategy, which would lead to the group sweeping across the south of the country. 
“My biggest worry at the moment is, with the Western forces having pulled out with no adequate explanation of what is going to replace them, we are going to see a potential collapse in Afghan Armed Forces morale,” he said, adding that the resurgence of Taliban control would “almost certainly” facilitate the return of terror training camps.
“There will be ungoverned space … and in that ungoverned space terrorist acts may yet again be planned and executed,” warned Richards.
“I think we all forget too readily the scenes of 9/11, the Twin Towers and the attack in Washington. That is actually why we went into Afghanistan, and we’ve been spectacularly successful in achieving what we aimed to do,” he added.
“That is now being put at risk, along with all the wonderful gains in terms of education, health, and democracy, allowing people to hope for the future. All that is now, I’m afraid at great risk. We don’t have a substitute strategy and I want to hear what it should be.”