The Taliban publicly threatened Afghan security guards who worked for the soon-to-close Australian embassy, ââcirculating photos of them online and warning that they would be targeted for cooperating with a foreign government.
The Australian government announced this week that it was closing its embassy in Kabul, citing “an increasingly uncertain security environment” and saying its diplomats would not be safe “in light of the impending international military withdrawal from Afghanistan “.
Afghan nationals employed under contract by the Australian government as security guards at the Kabul embassy say their work – highly visible, outside the embassy grounds – has made them targets for them. retaliation from the Taliban, and many say they will not be safe in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have openly declared that anyone who has worked for or alongside foreign governments or military forces is a traitor and an enemy and will be targeted.
The US military said it was working “quickly” to develop plans to evacuate interpreters and other personnel – up to 18,000 – who were working alongside US troops. But other allied countries have not made similar announcements.
The Guardian saw several threatening messages online from Afghans who worked at the Australian Embassy.
One of them, who has a photo of the guards demonstrating outside the diplomatic compound this week, carries the message, written in Pashto: âInterpreters and security guards have gathered outside the Australian embassy in Kabul. to seek asylum from the Australian government.
“They had no idea that one day the embassy doors would be closed and that they would be held accountable to the people.”
One guard said guards at embassies in countries with troops in Afghanistan regularly faced death threats from the Taliban, directed against them, their children and their families.
Previously, security guards employed as “contractors” to provide security for the Australian Embassy were not eligible for the Australian Government Locally Employed Humanitarian Relocation Program, which is open to other directly employed employees, such as The interpreters.
Security officers were specifically informed: âThe following Afghan nationals will not be eligible for resettlement under this policy: people who have worked with Dfat in the course of their duties as an employee of a private security.
However, this week that notice was amended and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade correspondence seen by Guardian Australia said that “contractors and security personnel can also apply for humanitarian visas for locally recruited personnel.”
Guards say they welcome being allowed to apply for the program, but with processing times often exceeding five years, they fear it will be too slow. They say the sudden closure of the embassy has exposed them to insurgent violence and feel abandoned by the country for which they risked their lives.
One guard, whom the Guardian chose not to name for security reasons, said the guards would be targeted and killed by the Taliban when foreign troops left.
“We are not going out of the house, the children have dropped out of school, all because of the threat to our lives,” he said.
âWe feel good about our work for Australia and we are always proud of Australia. So they won’t turn their backs on us. We worked faithfully and helped them to live in safety[ly]. “
Pat Ryan, a former Dfat contractor in Afghanistan and advocate for Australia’s Afghan national staff, said there was “a real and current threat to local national staff who worked to protect the embassy and consular buildings “.
“This threat increases with the withdrawal of coalition forces and our diplomats.”
Jason Scanes, a former Australian Army captain who served in Afghanistan, said Australia has a “moral obligation” to those on whom it has relied for 20 years.
âThere will be a great deal of shame felt by many veterans of our government with the closure of the embassy if we abandon those with whom we have forged close ties and who have helped us across Afghanistan and on the field. battle, âhe said.
Dfat did not respond to questions about its proposal to relocate security personnel and other staff.
With the United States and its coalition forces leaving Afghanistan by September, the outlook for Afghanistan is bleak. The resurgent and emboldened Taliban control large swathes of the country and threaten much more.
“The Taliban are likely to make gains on the battlefield,” and the prospects for a peace deal are “dim,” an US intelligence report mentionned.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said this week that the United States was “rapidly” preparing plans to evacuate Afghan citizens who had worked for the United States military, before the troops withdraw. in September.
Milley said it was important that the United States “remain loyal to those who supported the war effort … and that we do whatever is necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, to get them out of the country.” .
“There are plans being made very, very quickly here, not just performers but a lot of other people who have worked with the United States.”
In Kabul, the immediate future of the Australian Embassy is uncertain.
The government’s announcement on Tuesday indicated that the embassy would close on Friday, May 28. But security officials say they were told they would continue to stand guard until June 15.