‘I feel ashamed’: Afghan official in hiding in Kabul describes moment Taliban took over capital

·5-min read
Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of Kabul airport on Thursday (AP)
Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of Kabul airport on Thursday (AP)

A senior official in the former Afghan government, in hiding in Kabul, has described the moments staff were caught off guard by the Taliban’s advance as he pleaded for help from Britain to aide his escape.

Speaking to The Independent through a translator, the senior government source described how he has lost hope for himself and his family and has been desperately trying to reach out to the British embassy for help.

The worker, who was privy to senior discussions within the Afghan government, described how officials had been surprised by the speed of the Taliban advance. “At no point did they think that Kabul would fall like it did,” he said.

The official is now fearing for his life and, while he was on the phone, members of his family were positioned at windows looking out for people approaching their hiding place.

He spoke of the disappointment and shame he felt about the fall of the Afghan government, saying: “We had the support of the international community but with the inefficiency and corruption, among other things, we weren’t able to take advantage of this. We weren’t able to build it strong enough to maintain. That is something I feel ashamed of.”

Describing the run-up to 15 August, when the Taliban entered the capital, he said: “Initially, when the reports started, the Taliban were just taking over districts in different provinces. This had happened before but it was accelerating, which was worrying.

“Then they started taking some provinces. Once again, this was worrying, but at no point did they think that Kabul would fall like it did.”

He was in a meeting of senior government officials on Sunday 15 August when they suddenly received a report that the Taliban had entered the city and were taking over. “Thousands of staff freaked out and doors were opened and people started leaving,” he said.

“A security officer advised the officials to leave but they insisted on staying. Finally they realised that things had progressed and went home to be on the safe side.

“We heard while this was happening that there had been no fighting and no resistance. We heard that Ashraf Ghani himself had handed over Kabul and everything over to them. There was a plane that had landed at his place and he, along with his wife and his key people, just left, leaving everything to the Taliban.”

The ousted Afghan president fled Kabul as it was being overtaken by Taliban fighters and is now seeking refuge in the United Arab Emirates. He claimed on Facebook at the time that he had chosen to flee the country to avert bloodshed in the capital, saying “countless patriots would be martyred and the city of Kabul would be destroyed” if he had stayed behind.

“It was quite a shock that even people at that level didn’t expect things to happen this quickly,” the source said. “Even the senior government officials did not know that the president would flee and the Taliban would take over.”

Left in a state of fear, abandoned by the president and his advisers, he detailed how he was scared to go outside and how he expected to lose his life if he was not helped to an evacuation flight.

“Since the takeover, me and my family have been in a constant state of stress and fear. It feels almost like five years have passed,” he said.

“I was hoping that, with some assistance from the outside, this would allow us to get out, but that hasn’t panned out yet. I have reached out to the British embassy but there has been no reply.”

The official has a UK visa and has travelled frequently to the UK over the past decade. He had friends and family living in Britain and has been working with people in the country for over 12 years.

He said he has tried to get to the airport for three days, heading there and staying from morning to evening, with his family. “It’s pure chaos out there,” he said. “You can’t get a kilometre close to the gates and there are about 25,000 people surrounding the airport.

“Before you even get close you get shouted down. Even if I do get an email that instructs me to come to the airport for a flight, it’s not clear at all how we will be able to get close to the gate, especially now.”

Since the official spoke to The Independent, at least 90 people have been killed in a bombing near Kabul’s airport. The attacks came hours after western governments had warned their citizens to stay away from the area. The bombing has been claimed by Isis-K, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group.

Following attacks, the source and his family are in an extreme state of stress and feel an even more urgent need to leave the country.

He is reluctant to try to escape over the land border because he is well known as a government official and some of his children don’t have passports.

Describing the problems in Kabul, he said: “The economy is very close to crashing. Initially you could go and get cash out of the banks, but now they are saying only $200 and even that is difficult to get, with lines around the banks.”

People posing as Taliban members have been stealing cars from people’s driveways and, as there is no government infrastructure, citizens are struggling to get passports or documentation.

He appealed to the Foreign Office for help, saying: “My entire family are in a state of paralysis. The entire city is in a state of emotional distress.”

Britain is expected to complete its evacuation efforts by the end of Friday, leaving over 1,000 people behind. The government is operating the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy for people who have supported British efforts in Afghanistan and lists Afghan government officials in groups prioritised for help. They are advised to call +44 2475 389 980.

A spokesperson for the FCDO said: “More than 13,700 people, including British nationals, our Afghan staff and others at risk have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the UK since Saturday 14 August in one of the biggest operations of its kind in history.

“We will continue to do all we can to deliver on our obligation to get British nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country while the security situation allows.”

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