Taliban hunt UK interpreter who is in hiding with family in Afghanistan after his visa to Britain was revoked at 11th hour despite death sentence on head
- Ahmadzai was branded a ‘threat’ to Britain despite risking his life for the Army
- Already subjected to one assassination attempt and has been sentenced to die
- Campaigners estimate 200 translators who worked for UK may not be rescued
An Afghan interpreter is now being hunted by Taliban kill squads after his visa to the UK was revoked last week despite the militant group’s shadow courts passing a death sentence against him.
Ahmadzai, who is hiding with his family after at least one assassination attempt, was branded a ‘threat’ to UK security by Home Office officials despite bravely serving alongside senior British Army generals, one of whom called the claim ‘rubbish’.
He told the Stories of Our Times podcast: ‘The only actions left are either to remain in Kabul and get killed by the Taliban, to cross the border to Iran and go there, or to be helped by NATO countries.
‘They have sentenced me to death, and ordered their fighters that I should be shot and killed wherever I am found. Three weeks ago my son was with me when four gunmen tried to kill me but I recognised them and they fled.’
Former British interpreters protesting in Kabul on August 13 before the capital was overrun by the Taliban. Their faces are obscured for security reasons
The interpreter – referred to only by his last name for security reasons – said that working for the British forces ‘was my mistake’, adding: ‘Not only have I risked my life and made the Taliban want to kill me, but I’ve also risked the life of my kids.’
His harrowing story emerged as Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary and a former soldier, fought back tears as he admitted ‘some won’t get back’ from Afghanistan after the capital, Kabul, fell to the Taliban.
Campaigners estimate that around 200 former translators who worked over the last two decades for UK forces may not be rescued – for many because their claim for relocation was rejected – even if ‘freedom flights’ that are carrying some to asylum are able to continue.
Ahmadzai, speaking to the podcast from the Times and Sunday Times, had been working for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani until Sunday before the politician fled when the Taliban breached Kabul’s defences.
His position working for some of the British Army’s most senior officers puts him high on the list for retribution, and the Taliban have already searched his home since taking over Kabul.
In June the Home Office announced he would be granted a visa to travel to Britain on August 1, but last week this was revoked because his ‘character, conduct and associations’ were not ‘conducive to the public good’. He cannot appeal.
Armed Taliban militants in a pick-up truck move through a market in Kabul today after taking over the capital
Today he pleaded: ‘Take me to the UK and put me in prison. Take me to court. If you believe I’m bad, you can sentence me to death.
‘But to leave me behind in Kabul, you are inviting the Taliban to come and kill me. The Taliban won’t give me a chance to speak. They will just shoot.’
Charlie Herbert, a former major general who worked alongside Ahmadzai in Kandahar and has testified to his good character, said: ‘You’re telling me this man is a threat to the United Kingdom? Absolute rubbish.
‘He is a dead man walking, there is no doubt that they will kill him as soon as they find him.’
MailOnline has asked the Home Office about Ahmadzai’s case and whether anything will be done to help him.
Yesterday, men who risked their lives beside British forces described panic and confusion as they watched heavily armed Taliban fighters on the streets outside their homes in the city’s suburbs.
Charlie Herbert, a former major general who worked alongside Ahmadzai in Kandahar, said it was ‘rubbish’ that he posed a threat to the UK
Activists estimate that – when interpreters’ families are included – there are around 1,000 men, women and children who could miss the chance of a deserved new life in Britain and instead be left to the brutal mercy of the Taliban.
Government sources said that a total of around 1,700 ‘former locally employed staff and their families’ have been told they can come to the UK.
Major Herbert warned that the Prime Minister will have ‘blood on his hands’ if any interpreters are abandoned to their death by Britain.
He said: ‘If any interpreters or their family members are murdered by the Taliban, Boris Johnson, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and the Home Secretary Priti Patel will have their blood on their hands.
‘It is too late now for most interpreters caught in areas controlled by the Taliban. I am getting messages from them and they are heartbroken and terrified. They are hiding for their lives as the Taliban go from house to house trying to find them.’
Former Afghan interpreter Wazir, 31, and his family fled Kabul with other refugees
As the Taliban closed in on Kabul yesterday the interpreters spoke of scenes of chaos as those given permission to relocate tried to confirm flights, those waiting for their cases to be decided pleaded for a decision and those rejected accused the UK of ‘leaving us behind for the Taliban to avenge’.
Najib, who worked for eight years with UK forces and has been granted sanctuary, said: ‘It was a terrifying moment to see our enemy on the streets of our capital as victors. We all fear for our lives. We do not know if the British can still save us, maybe it is now too late.’
The 37-year-old, who has a family of four, added: ‘We are all afraid of what the future holds and the reality is that many of the interpreters will be left behind.’ The Defence Secretary had personally overturned the decision to deny sanctuary in Britain to 60 translators previously barred from relocating here due to minor criminal convictions or disciplinary issues which ended their service.
They were among a batch of 88 ‘contentious cases’ which were sent to Mr Wallace following pressure from this newspaper’s Betrayal of the Brave campaign.
Others who contacted the British Afghan team working on the cases said their calls and emails went unanswered as officials face a massive workload, under mounting pressure to analyse each scenario. The fears in Kabul were mirrored in the UK where former translators who were rescued by Britain demanded the Government help their families who, they believe, will be punished and killed.
More than 200 said they are planning a demonstration outside Parliament on Wednesday calling for the Government to assure them their families will be relocated.
For the last 56 days, Mayar (pictured middle) has been waiting for a phone call or email to tell him and his family the details of the freedom flight that will take them to Britain
Rafi Hottak, a former supervisor of interpreters who was blown up on the front lines in Helmand and now lives in the Midlands after claiming asylum, said: ‘We are terrified about the Taliban punishing our families because of our work for the UK.
‘We intend to keep a vigil outside Parliament and the Home Office until we know the Government is going to act. The window of opportunity to save life is very small. It is Britain’s moral responsibility.’
UK-based translators said many MPs had offered their support and would call on ministers to save those at risk because of their work alongside British forces.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds wrote to Miss Patel yesterday calling on the Government to live up to Britain’s obligations on Afghanistan.
He said: ‘The Taliban’s return is likely to drive many thousands of people from their homes, with women and girls at particular risk. The UK Government must put in place specific safe and legal asylum routes to help provide support.’
Last night the Ministry of Defence would not comment on how many former translators had been barred from relocating to the UK.
A spokesman said it estimates around 2,000 Afghans who have worked for UK forces are in Afghanistan – unofficial figures are higher.
‘Even if the call comes, road blocks may stop us’: Translators tell of their terror as Taliban militants try to block their escape
A former interpreter with UK Special Forces ran the gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints to reach Kabul’s airport yesterday in a desperate attempt to secure a place on a Freedom Flight.
‘There was panic, chaos and confusion at the airport with crowds of people around all five gates,’ Shane says. ‘Some were pushing, others pleading and some just sitting and waiting. There was shouting and crying; some were trying to climb over the gates.
Chaos: Shane awaits his flight to freedom
‘People are afraid and desperate to escape. We are all worried the airport will be cut off by the Taliban, so even if we have a chance for a flight it could be very tough.’
The 34-year-old father-of-five is among those approved for sanctuary in recent days after his case was highlighted by the Mail’s Betrayal Of The Brave campaign.
He was among a dozen translators with a Special Forces’ Task Force based at Camp Juno in Helmand who had been rejected for relocation because they were not employed by the Government.
The decision was reversed and he is now waiting to be told when to fly.
‘Everyone is wanting to get on a plane before the Taliban find us,’ he says. ‘That is why we went to the airport, but the Turkish guards were letting no one through apart from American translators and their families, who had U.S. troops with them.
I asked for British troops, but no one came. It was frustrating. There was a real feeling of fear around us and of suspicion.
‘The Taliban is stopping and searching vehicles, and we have been told they are going from compound to compound, looking for those who worked with the government and Western forces. I have changed my location three times.’
Shane, who worked for three years at the highly sensitive base which ran intelligence operations and Afghan spies — he was once flown to the UK to brief ministers and officials — says: ‘We are all worried that when the call comes to go to the airport, it may not be possible because of road blocks and searches. We are worried, too, that the phone networks or electricity will be down and we will miss the call.’
Remain? ‘It’d be like Hell waiting for their revenge’
The view from his second-floor window in a Kabul suburb was terrifying, Waheed said, as he watched Taliban putting up roadblocks and searching cars.
‘It is worrying as there are many on the roads and they seem to have absolute power, people are very respectful — afraid — so they are answering questions and stepping away from their cars if asked,’ said the 30-year-old former British military interpreter.
Low profile: Waheed is still hopeful he will escape
Waheed, who worked with front-line troops and military spies for three years, is waiting for news of a Freedom Flight with his wife and their two young children.
‘As the day has gone on, there are more Taliban on the streets,’ he told me. ‘Some are not armed but they are all clearly confident and proud of what they are.
‘Some people are greeting them and shaking their hands. I think it is because they are fearful — not because they are really pleased to welcome them.
‘I don’t think there has been any shooting — they seem in absolute control — so the problem for me will be reaching the airport when permission to fly is granted.
‘I am really hopeful that Britain will make this work for us because to remain would be like staying in Hell to wait for their revenge.’
He said social media was ‘alive’ with rumours and stories, saying that government officials were being taken away from their homes.
Some Afghan police and military are now helping the Taliban.
Translators had agreed to keep a low profile, Waheed explained, and await the call ‘to fly’. Some were deleting numbers and pictures from their phones in case they are stopped and searched for anything linking them to the British military.
‘The window for our escape is closing…’
Bashir was anxiously waiting by his telephone yesterday, hoping Britain would finally grant him sanctuary before time runs out.
The 34-year-old worked in Helmand for 14 months, and was wounded in the shoulder by a sniper’s bullet during a daytime operation to capture Taliban targets.
Desperate: Bashir says Kabul is full of fear
He says: ‘Every call, every message I hope is permission to go to the UK.
‘I am desperate to escape. Kabul is full of fear. If I am captured, I will be killed because of my work, and I know the Taliban is searching for us.
‘All my paperwork is ready and with the UK authorities. I served them bravely and loyally, and it is now in their gift to save me and my family.
‘The window for our escape from the Taliban is closing and I do not understand the delay. Why have some been approved and others not?’
Three weeks ago, the father-of-three found a bomb under his car and he claims to have been threatened repeatedly.
‘The fear among us all is very real. People here are nervous — you can feel it,’ he says.
‘Everyone is fearing the worst and wondering if they will live or die.’
Bashir, whose interpreter brother has been approved for relocation, said he moved to Kabul to be ready to ‘escape’ if permission is granted.
He said he first applied for sanctuary three years ago, but did not qualify because he had not been directly employed.
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