The Afghanistan province of Bamyan, where New Zealand troops served for 20 years and where eight Kiwi lives were lost, has fallen to a rampant Taliban.
It comes as the Cabinet ministers will tomorrow discuss how it could potentially help evacuate interpreters and other civilian workers who helped the New Zealand war effort in Afghanistan and now feel their lives are in danger as the Taliban seizes control of the country and surrounds the capital, Kabul.
A group of 38 Afghan civilians who helped the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in the Bamyan Province – including interpreters, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cleaners, and female kitchen workers – are fearing deadly reprisals as the Taliban resurfaces now the Kiwis, Americans and other Nato allies have abandoned the country.
They have fled their villages and towns in recent weeks, either for remote, mountainous safe havens, or Kabul, where they hoped they might be safe as they renewed pleas with the New Zealand Government to review their immigration cases.
While the Government meets tomorrow to urgently review the immigration cases, the group of Afghans on the run from the Taliban say there is no time to lose.
The Herald has been told that Bamyan is the latest province to fall into the hands of the hardline Islamist group, after provinces, districts and towns have been falling daily over the last few weeks.
“Bamyan has fallen… families [are] coming to Kabul,” said one Afghani who was formerly an interpreter with several different high-profile Kiwi missions.
He wants to stay anonymous for now, afraid that he might not get out before the Taliban close the country off completely.
They now control all the major border crossings.
“If I get stuck, I will be an immediate target,” he said tonight from Kabul.
Nowroz Ali, who volunteered to help at the front gate of Kiwi Base in Bamyan in 2010,yesterday said he hardly made it back to Kabul yesterday, after making a mercy visit to family back in Bamyan.
He says there is no time for the New Zealand Government to delay their decisions any longer.
“We need New Zealand’s firm act by sending a work group to Afghanistan before it’s too late,” he told the Herald today.
He says New Zealand must follow the US who last night began flying helicopters into the US Embassy in Kabul to try and get diplomats and sensitive files out.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) told the Herald they are “following developments in Afghanistan with concern”.
“We call for an end to the ongoing violence, respect for human rights in Afghanistan and progress in the intra-Afghan peace negotiations,” a spokeswoman told the Herald.
There are no New Zealand Government officials currently based in Afghanistan, but despite warning Kiwis not to travel there, and if they are there, to “depart as soon as possible” there were 17 registered on SafeTravel as at midday yesterday.
“We are providing consular assistance to a small number of New Zealanders. For privacy reasons we will not be providing more details,” the MFAT spokeswoman said.
Deployments of the NNZ PRT were based in Bamyan. That was where eight lives were lost, including Lance Corporals Rory Patrick Malone and Pralli Durrer, both killed in the fierce Battle of Baghak, and a fortnight later on August 19, 2012, Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, who all died when their Humvee hit a 20kg roadside improvised explosive device.
Last month, the Herald reported that armed Taliban insurgents stormed into Kahmard district – less than 10km from where the Battle of Baghak took place in the Shikari Valley and – on July 12, and the next day took over the Saighan district briefly before a counterattack by government forces drove them away.
Bamyan father-of-four Basir Ahmad worked as an interpreter for several NZ PRT rotations in the 2000s, going on several dangerous patrol missions.
Speaking to the Herald last month from a secret location, Ahmad said they were surrounded by militant extremists who were “very close”.
“If they find me, where I am speaking right now, they will kill me,” said Ahmad who was rejected by New Zealand immigration authorities last year.
“If the Taliban comes to our area, they will slaughter all people who worked for New Zealand PRT. They are very committed to kill those people who worked with foreign troops.”
Refugees International president Eric P Schwartz says the rapidly developing situation, including the imminent siege of Kabul, requires swift action and humanitarian diplomacy from, not just the United States, but its international partners to protect civilians and ensure safe passage out of the country for those who need it.
“This will require a massive evacuation effort for those Afghans most at risk and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor out of Kabul,” he said.
“Those who have fled the capital city in the face of the Taliban advance have nowhere left to go.”
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