Toronto – When I answered the phone, I only heard loud gunshots. The call was from a Canadian I was communicating with in Afghanistan. I will call him Hamid, because even if his real name is publicly mentioned, the Taliban can kill him.
The Taliban have been waiting to attack the capital, Kabul, for two decades, ever since US and Allied forces – including more than 40,000 Canadians – pushed them out of the Washington-led city. fight against terror.
It was a war that emerged from the ashes of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in which then-US President George W. Bush vowed to strike those who used American passenger planes as lethal missiles.
Hamid played a role in that war. He was a translator who helped Canadian soldiers throughout their 12-year mission. Not only helping our soldiers communicate with the local people, but attempting to keep them safe in cities and rough mountainous terrain, only those born there can know it very well.
Interpreters, or “terps” as the soldiers like to call them, often become very close to those helping them. Every soldier I spoke with who visited Afghanistan – more often several – spoke incredibly highly of the terps who worked side by side with them. After all these years, not only did they remember their names, but many worked hard to help their interpreters get back to Canada.
Canadian soldiers who had been aided by their interpreters were now giving back, helping to save the lives of their allies. Because, like Hamid, anyone who helped the West in Afghanistan was hit by the Taliban.
It was on August 21, six days after the Taliban broke into the Afghan capital, Kabul, when I first met Hamid over email, followed by a flurry of WhatsApp messages and phone calls. He, his wife and four young children were trapped in Kabul and could not find a way out. Hamid was quite resourceful – not for lack of trying. Not for lack of paperwork – he and his family now had Canadian passports. It was a lack of help from Ottawa. The same government whose war effort was supported by Hamid. Hamid laid down his life for the same flag. The country he now called home. Because Hamid was in Kabul on a family trip, he went to visit relatives before returning to Toronto. His timing couldn’t have been worse.
When US President Joe Biden announced a planned withdrawal of American troops to Afghanistan, his defense officials expected Kabul to fall in 90 days. It took less than 10s.
15 August The Taliban entered Kabul.
Those now at high risk of being targeted include anyone who helps Canadian soldiers. Hamid was already in the city with his family. The Taliban began leaving “notes of the night” – letters placed on the doors of houses they knew were hiding interpreters like Hamid. One note, left at the home of a man whose brother worked as a terp for the Americans, read:
“You were warned earlier … to prevent your enslavement to the invading crusaders … (you) provided protection to your brother XX who was an interpreter… You will be sentenced to death.”
It was signed by the Taliban’s head of military affairs.
August 21, Hamid begins fellowship with me.
Hamid was trying to get out for several days. We start calling, messaging and emailing and he tells me about the grave danger he and his family are in. The Taliban is trying to target anyone who speaks English. There are reports of the Taliban firing into the air and “accidentally” shooting people in the crowd. I have received a video showing body bags and bloodied faces from other people on the ground. Food and water is very limited, and it is around 30 °C. Here are some of his emails from our first day:
5:49 pm Kabul time
“IRCC (Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada)Told us to go to the NE (North East Airport) gate and we do so…they did not let us in…. We are here for two days.”
“IRCC sent me an email… letter and I print it and go to (North East Airport) gate but we were not Canadian to enter yes
IRCC… told me to go to the gate of the Baron Hotel and now we are here… they said they will send Canadian forces… to take us to the airport but it didn’t happen… there are Taliban And … if they find that we worked with Canadians, they will kill us.”
On August 22, Hamid’s emails stopped.
7:47 am Kabul time
“We Can’t Wait Another Day”
So nothing. I did not listen to Hamid overnight which made me very worried for him and his family. And I only talked with him for a few days — I couldn’t imagine what Canadians would be doing with the family in Afghanistan at the moment.
Finally, several hours later he answered. Hamid’s email said just that Ok. We just entered the airport and we are now in the Canadian camp inside the airport.
I called him to know how it happened. This time there was no gunshot. But he told me that it was a British soldier who took him to the airport. At that time he had not heard from IRCC again. But Hamid has since told me that his wife and four young children are in quarantine near Pearson Airport in Toronto.
Watch W5’s ‘Escape From Kabul’ on Granthshala, Saturday at 7 PM