Rows of Afghan soldiers in armored vehicles and pickup trucks crossed the desert at high speed to reach Iran. The military pilots flew low and fast to reach the mountains of Uzbekistan, where they would be safe.
Thousands of Afghan security forces have managed to reach other countries in recent weeks, while the Taliban have quickly taken control of the country. Others managed to negotiate their surrender and returned home. Some kept their weapons and joined the winning camp.
All were part of the process of sudden fragmentation of the national security forces that the United States and its allies spent tens of billions of dollars to arm, train and deploy against the Taliban, a two-decade institution-building effort that has disappeared in a matter of just a few days.
But tens of thousands of other Afghan soldiers, commandos and spies who fought to the end, despite what was said in Washington about the surrender of Afghan forces, were left behind. They are now on the run, in hiding and being chased by the Taliban.
“There is no way out,” Farid, an Afghan commando, said in a text message to an American soldier who fought with him. Farid, who agreed to be identified by his first name only, said he was hiding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, trapped after the surrender of regular army units around him. “I pray to be saved.”
Reports begin to flow of Taliban hunters who the group say worked and fought alongside US and NATO forces, forming a bloody counterpoint to the softer, gentler face the militants tried to show the world .
The Taliban are threatening to arrest or punish family members if they cannot find the people they are looking for. The information comes from former Afghan officials, a confidential report written for the United Nations and US veterans contacted by desperate Afghans who served alongside them. Most requested anonymity to speak, to protect their friends and relatives who are still in hiding in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials said the Taliban searched documents at the Defense and Interior Ministry and the Afghan spy service headquarters, compiling lists of operatives to be searched. And there are growing reports that activists quickly and fatally retaliate when these targets are found.
A former interpreter who worked for US special forces said he saw another man shot dead a few feet away for the mere suspicion of working with foreign forces.
In the southern city of Kandahar, videos posted to social media last week by Afghan public broadcaster RTA showed dozens of bodies lying in the streets. Many are said to have come from soldiers and authorities executed by the Taliban. The RTA itself is now in the hands of the Taliban.
It is not known how many Afghan soldiers and security officials are on the run. Dozens of Afghan pilots fled to Uzbekistan, where on Sunday, according to Uzbek officials, 22 planes and 24 helicopters arrived carrying nearly 600 men. An unknown number has reached Iran, according to former Afghan officials.
Afghan security forces numbered around 300,000 on paper. But due to corruption, desertions and casualties, according to US officials, only a sixth of that total actually participated in the fight against the Taliban this year.
Thousands of them surrendered when the Taliban swept the country, handing over their weapons after being promised to leave unharmed. So far, the Taliban seem to respect these agreements – historically a common part of the country’s wars – and militants seem to be much more focused on locating the army’s 18,000 commandos, many of whom have not surrendered, and agents of the national espionage service. , the National Security Directory or NDS.
Some of these men took refuge in the Panjshir Valley, a small strategic strip of land north of Kabul where a handful of Afghan leaders are trying to organize a force to resist the Taliban. They say they have between 2,000 and 2,500 men, but there is no independent confirmation of that.
Two decades ago, the leader of the Panjshiri mujahedeen, Ahmed Shah Massoud, for years resisted the Taliban in the valley. Subsequently, the region offered American spies and members of the American special forces a platform to launch the invasion that ousted the Taliban from power in the months following September 11, 2001.
This time, however, the Panjshiris have no heavy weapons, no supply line across the country’s northern border, no significant international support, or a unifying leader like Massoud. Even those Afghans who support its efforts consider its chances of success to be negligible.
At Kabul airport, several hundred NDS commandos are helping the thousands of US soldiers and marines overseeing the evacuation of foreigners and Afghans, according to US officials and former Afghan officials. The deal with the Americans calls for the Afghans to be among the last to leave, serving as a rearguard until they are taken by helicopter to freedom.
“They have a heroic performance,” said a US official.
“That’s an understatement,” commented another.
NDS commands have good reason to be afraid. Their units have killed scores of Taliban fighters and commanders, deaths militants seem keen to avenge.
Members of the Taliban began visiting the homes of senior intelligence officials shortly after arriving in Kabul on Sunday (15). At the home of Rahmatullah Nabil, a former NDS chief who has left the country in recent days, they arrived with electronic equipment to search the residence, according to a former Afghan official.
In the apartment of another counterterrorism official, members of the Taliban left a letter this week ordering the official to report to the militants’ Military and Intelligence Commission in Kabul. The letter was reproduced in the confidential report prepared for the United Nations, the name and title of the official being omitted.
Those responsible for the fight against terrorism were responsible for leading the commandos who were hunting down the Taliban leadership, and the letter read: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers you an important person.
The letter warned the official that if he did not report to the Taliban as ordered, his family would be detained and punished.
The document was forwarded to the United Nations by the Norwegian Center for Comprehensive Analysis, an entity that provides intelligence information to United Nations agencies. It has been shared internally by the UN and has been seen by The New York Times.
According to the document, numerous reports indicate that the Taliban have a list of people they want to interrogate and punish – and know where they are. The document adds that the Taliban went door-to-door, “arresting and / or threatening to kill or arrest family members of targeted individuals, unless they surrender to the Taliban.”
Translation by Clara Allain