‘If I stay I will die’: Thousands of female ex-security agents trapped in Afghanistan ‘at risk’ from Taliban

·5-min read
Men suspected to be Taliban fighters being chaperoned by Afghan security forces in wake of operation at National Directorate of Security headquarters in Herat in February 2021  (AFP via Getty)
Men suspected to be Taliban fighters being chaperoned by Afghan security forces in wake of operation at National Directorate of Security headquarters in Herat in February 2021 (AFP via Getty)

Thousands of women who formerly worked as national security agents in Afghanistan are trapped in the country at profound risk from the Taliban, The Independent understands.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s national intelligence and security service, was disbanded by the Taliban after they gained control of the capital, Kabul, in August.

Agents at the NDS had worked closely with the UK and the US, carrying out surveillance operations on the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Speaking to The Independent in an exclusive interview, a woman who worked in a senior role at the agency has said she fears for her life and is currently on the run from the Taliban.

The former agent – her name is withheld to protect her safety – said she fled to hide in villages outside Kabul after the Taliban seized control of the city in mid-August, and has been too fearful to return to her home since. Members of the hardline Islamist group have come to look for her at her home six times since then, she added.

The 60-year-old, who worked for the NDS for 35 years, said neighbours and security guards who work at her property informed her that the Taliban had come hunting for her three times in the summer and three times in the winter.

“Around 17 August, the Taliban came three times with three police cars. There were around 20 or 25 members of the Taliban. The Taliban broke the door and came inside the house.”

The former agent, who is currently moving between various friends’ houses, described her now-abandoned home as a beautiful old property. She said she is too scared to even go back to grab some belongings in case her neighbours call the Taliban.

A woman wearing a burqa leaves the passport office in Kabul last month (AFP/Getty)
A woman wearing a burqa leaves the passport office in Kabul last month (AFP/Getty)

She said: “I don’t like daytime because I am hiding all the time. I am thinking somebody may give my address to the Taliban. I can’t go for a walk. I’ve lost my freedom. I can’t go for exercise. I am scared by my shadow.

“I don’t want to put the light on because I am scared. I have put a lot of weight on because I stay in my room all the time. I have a lot of health issues. I eat a lot because of stress.”

She explained that she suffers from asthma and arthritis but is struggling to access her usual medication – she is too scared to visit the doctor in case it leads to the Taliban discovering her whereabouts. On top of this, she cannot see her daughter and granddaughter, as she fears her presence would put them at risk from the Taliban.

The former agent noted that there were 6,800 women working for the NDS in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban obtaining power. She said that a minority may have managed to flee, but she believes thousands remain stranded in the country.

“These women are in hiding. They changed their phone numbers when the Taliban came to power,” she said.

The woman has two children who live in Germany and another two in Australia, and has applied to go to both countries, but has heard nothing from either.

She is considering leaving Afghanistan to go to Iran or the UK, but has yet to apply for citizenship for either country.

I don’t want to put the light on because I am scared. I have put a lot of weight on because I stay in my room all the time

“If I stay in Afghanistan I will die,” she said. “People here are scared. Women are very scared. Before the Taliban came, I had a morning walk, but not now. I had a good life, I had exercise... all my social life has collapsed.”

She continued: “The world is not thinking about women who worked with the NDS. I worked for my country... for the security of my country. The Taliban is a group of killers, of inhumane people. The Taliban is the killer of freedom for women. When I close my eyes I think about the Taliban.”

Her comments come after a troubling report by Human Rights Watch warned that the Taliban had executed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 ex-police and intelligence officers since taking control of the country last year.

Heather Barr, associate director of women’s rights at the prominent charity, said she was not aware of any organised effort to evacuate women who had worked for national security services. While some may have managed to flee Afghanistan, thousands are still stranded there, she added.

The campaigner told The Independent that she finds it highly frustrating that “troop-contributing” nations such as the US and the UK made efforts to integrate women into the NDS, the army and the police, yet now ignore them.

She said they have been left “completely high and dry now”.

Ms Barr said: “Not just because they are working in roles that the Taliban thought unacceptable for women, but because they are against anyone who is seen as acting against the Taliban, which includes anyone working for these agencies.

“It feels like a betrayal.”

The Taliban have clamped down on women’s rights since gaining power, barring women and girls from the workplace and secondary education, while Afghanistan is currently in the grip of a major humanitarian crisis.

When the Islamist group previously ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, women were barred from working or from leaving the house without a male relative, and girls were stopped from going to school.

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