Chased by the Taliban, US-allied Afghan forces are hiding

Columns of Afghan soldiers in armored vehicles and pickup trucks rushed through the desert to reach Iran. Military pilots flew low and fast to safety in the mountains of Uzbekistan.

Thousands of members of Afghan security forces managed to reach other countries over the past few weeks as the Taliban quickly conquered the country. Others managed to negotiate surrenders and went back to their homes – and some kept their weapons and joined the winning side.

They were all part of the sudden atomization of national security forces that the United States and its allies spent tens of billions of dollars on arming, training, and standing up to the Taliban, a two-decade-long institutional effort that disappeared in just a few days.

But tens of thousands of other Afghan grunts, commandos and spies who fought to the last, despite talk in Washington that the Afghan forces were simply giving up, have been left behind. They are now on the run, hiding and being chased by the Taliban.

“There is no way around it,” Farid, an Afghan commando soldier, said in a text message to a U.S. soldier who was fighting with him. Farid, who agreed to be identified only by his first name, said he was hiding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, trapped after the regular army units surrendered around him. “I pray to be saved.”

Reports that the Taliban are searching for people they believe worked with and fought with US and NATO forces are beginning to leak out, providing a bloody counterpoint to the friendlier and milder face the militants have been trying to present to the world.

The militants are threatening to arrest or punish family members if they cannot find the people they are looking for, according to former Afghan officials, a confidential report prepared for the UN and US veterans who have been contacted by desperate Afghans who served with them. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to protect friends and loved ones still hiding in Afghanistan.

Officials said the Taliban had searched through records in the Ministry of Defense and Interior and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s spy service and compiled lists of agents to be searched. And there are more and more reports that the militants are demanding quick and fatal revenge once they are found.

A former US Special Forces interpreter said he saw another man shot down from him simply on suspicion that he had worked with foreign forces.

In the southern city of Kandahar, video by RTA, Afghanistan’s public television station, broadcast on social media last week showed dozens of bodies left by the road, many of them allegedly Afghan soldiers and officials executed by the Taliban. RTA itself is now in the hands of the Taliban.

How many Afghan soldiers and security officials are on the run is unclear. Dozens of Afghan pilots fled to Uzbekistan, where 22 planes and 24 helicopters with nearly 600 men arrived on Sunday, according to Uzbek officials; an unknown number reached Iran, former Afghan officials said.

On paper, the Afghan security forces number about 300,000. But because of corruption, desertion, and casualties, only one-sixth of that number were actually in the fight against the Taliban this year, U.S. officials say.

Thousands surrendered as the Taliban rolled through the country, laying down their weapons after being promised they would not be harmed. The Taliban so far appear to have stuck to these agreements – historically a common feature of Afghan warfare – and the militants seemed far more focused on the 18,000 Army commandos, many of whom did not surrender, and officers from the country’s spy service, the National Directorate for safety.

Some of these men have sought refuge in the Panjshir Valley, a strategic part north of Kabul, where a handful of Afghan leaders are trying to organize a force to resist the Taliban. They are said to have 2,000 to 2,500 men, but independent confirmation is not available.

Two decades ago, Panjshiri mujahedeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud held the valley against the Taliban for years. The region then provided US spies and special operations forces with a launching pad for the invasion that drove the Taliban from power in the months following the 9/11 attacks.

But this time, the Panjshiris lack heavy weapons, a supply line through Afghanistan’s northern borders, significant international support, or a unifying leader like Massoud. Even Afghans who support their efforts give them very long odds of success.

At Kabul airport, hundreds of commandos from the National Directorate of Security, according to U.S. officials and former Afghan officials, are helping the thousands of U.S. and Marine soldiers overseeing the evacuation of foreigners and Afghans. The agreement reached with the Americans is that the Afghans will be among the last to leave, and serve as rearguard before being flown to freedom.

“They are acting heroically,” said a U.S. official.

“It’s an understatement,” replied another.

The NDS commands have good reason to be afraid. The units killed several Taliban fighters and commanders – deaths that the militants appear eager to avenge.

The Taliban began showing up at the homes of senior intelligence officers shortly after moving into Kabul on Sunday. At the home of Rahmatullah Nabil, a former NDS chief who left the country in recent days, the Taliban came with electronic equipment to sweep the house, according to a former Afghan official.

On the occasion of another anti-terrorism official, the Taliban left a letter instructing the man to report to the militants’ military and intelligence commission in Kabul. The letter, dated August 16, was reproduced in the confidential report to the UN, although the official’s name and title were edited.

Anti-terrorist officials were responsible for overseeing the commandos chasing Taliban leaders, and the letter said: “The Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan considers you an important person.”

If the official did not report to the Taliban as ordered, it warned that their family would be detained and punished.

The document, dated Wednesday, was provided to the UN by the Norwegian Center for Global Analysis, a group that provides intelligence to the global organization’s agencies. It was shared internally at the UN and viewed by The New York Times.

There were several reports that the Taliban had a list of people they wanted to interrogate and punish – and their locations, the document said. And it added that the Taliban had gone door to door and “arrested and / or threatened to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender to the Taliban.”

The Taliban are also aggressively expanding their network of informants and urgent mosques and Hawala traders, the informal money traders who form the backbone of the Afghan financial system, to help them track down wanted members of the security forces, according to the report and witness reports.

The main targets were members of the Afghan military and police, as well as people working for investigative units in the overthrown government, the document said. That assessment was shared by several soldiers and former officials who were in hiding and was interviewed for this article.

Pentagon officials said they would be evacuated if they reached the airport, but it is unclear where they would end up. Unlike interpreters who worked with U.S. soldiers or Afghans who worked at the U.S. Embassy, ​​members of the Afghan security forces are not included in special visa programs established by the U.S. government.

First, however, they must pass the Taliban fighters who have blocked entrances to the airport, fired rifles and beaten people to control the thousands of people trying to escape. They are also said to be looking for Afghan soldiers and security officials and others who worked directly for US-led forces.

Reporting was contributed by Traci Carl, Rick Gladstone, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt.

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