LONDON: An Afghan interpreter who hid in a Kabul basement when the Taliban stormed the capital has been reunited with the British troops he worked with during the war in Afghanistan.
Josh Roberts, Paul Standen, Sam Knight and Vance Bacon-Sharratt owe their lives to the interpreter, known as “Abdul,” who kept them aware of Taliban attacks and movements while attached to their patrols.
The soldiers contacted a lawyer after Abdul was denied entry to Britain following a government ruling that his “presence in the UK would not be conducive to the public good.”
After gaining the right to settle in Britain, Abdul met the soldiers in a cafe in Canterbury, southern England, sharing an emotional moment and stories over breakfast about their time working in Helmand province.
Abdul, who brought his wife and two daughters to Britain, told The Times that the government had twice refused him entry to the country because he was perceived as a threat to “national security.”
The soldiers, from the English Midlands, sought the support of Natalia Garcia, a solicitor who specializes in national security cases.
Garcia launched a judicial review into the decision, arguing that Abdul was a hero who had “saved” the lives of British troops in Helmand.
Faced with a court hearing, the government intervened and passed Abdul’s application for resettlement, eventually confirming that he posed no risk.
When US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan were pulled out last August, Abdul, 32, hid in a friend’s basement with his wife and their daughters, aged 4 and 2, for almost six months.
The family were kept hidden from the Taliban, who launched a campaign of vengeance against people who worked with Western forces during the conflict.
In March, the family fled to Pakistan with the help of British military veterans.
Bacon-Sharratt, 33, told The Times: “I suffer from (post-traumatic stress disorder), so when the news came out about the Taliban takeover, it massively affected me. Abdul was messaging me saying the Taliban were close by and were executing people in the streets. I really struggled with that.”
The soldiers said that they challenged the government’s block on Abdul’s arrival because the Mercians could not leave “a man behind.”
Roberts, 30, said: “Abdul effectively saved our lives in Afghanistan. He was the guy who interpreted the Taliban’s code system, telling us we couldn’t move because there was a sniper on us.”
The soldiers said that they considered Abdul one of their own.
According to Standen, 31, the interpreter saved the lives of his troops “on more than one occasion,” including during an intense contact in November 2011.
“He warned us something was coming and within minutes a fire fight erupted. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t picked up that the Taliban were coming? It was the only warning we got.”
Bacon-Sharratt said that on another occasion the soldiers were “sitting ducks.” But Abdul intercepted radio traffic that suggested a militant attack was imminent, allowing the troops to evade the ambush.
Walking into the Canterbury restaurant over the weekend, Bacon-Sharratt said that he and Roberts “stopped dead” when they saw Abdul’s daughters.
“We just looked at each other and it was just this really full-on moment when we were both completely choked up,” he said.
Standen said: “We just went out and had some breakfast and coffees, and walked around Canterbury. Last time we were all in helmets and now we could walk around safely. I felt a bit tearful really.”
Abdul told the British newspaper that he is grateful his daughters will be able to attend school in Britain and plan for a university education. But in the meantime, he needed a job.
“Anything is great,” he said. “Hopefully, I can learn new skills and work in dishwashing, production or agriculture, maybe a shop. I really don’t mind.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “During Operation Pitting we evacuated 15,000 people from Kabul, and we continue to do all we can to secure safe passage and enable British nationals and eligible Afghans to leave the country.”