Afghan interpreter who worked for Spanish armed forces: ‘Rescue us – they are going to cut our throats’

‘Amal’ spoke to EL PAÍS late last week, after he fled his home province due to the advance of the Taliban throughout the country

'Amal' (l), an interpreter, working with Spanish armed forces in this file photo.
'Amal' (l), an interpreter, working with Spanish armed forces in this file photo.

Amal (not his real name) fled his home in the Afghan province of Badghis in the early hours of the morning with his family. He got into the car of a friend and left for neighboring Herat. He was trying to escape from the Taliban who had taken over the province, but it wasn’t long before they caught up with him again. The third-biggest city in the country was overrun on Thursday, and today much of the country – including the capital, Kabul – is under the control of the insurgents. Before he left he was witness to their brutality. “The Taliban caught two people, two alleged thieves who had stolen something from a store, and they cut their hands off in public,” he explained last week, speaking via a video call from the house of some friends where he is hiding.

This 34-year-old translator, who worked with the Spanish armed forces from 2007 to 2013, described the fear that he and his colleagues – who also provided their services to NATO country armies – were living through as the country’s cities fell to the Taliban one by one.

“We are calling on the Spanish government, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, to rescue us from Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he said. “If not, I am sure that they will cut our throats as they did with the interpreters for the United States.”

They have said to the majority of the interpreters, ‘You are the traitors with the Spanish, of the foreign forces
Afghan translator 'Amal'

Qala-i-Naw, the city where the Spanish military base was located, fell to the Taliban last week. This prompted the staff who worked with the Spanish civil and military units to request that they be included in any evacuation effort given the grave risk that they and their families are facing.

When he spoke to EL PAÍS late last week, Amal was hiding with his wife, two daughters and two sons. He had already received three threatening calls via telephone and had to change his number each time. “They said to me, ‘You are a traitor, with the Spanish.’ They have said to the majority of the interpreters, ‘You are the traitors with the Spanish, of the foreign forces, you were their eyes and you have translated for them’.”

He sent a letter to the Spanish embassy in Kabul, on behalf of himself and the staff who worked with the Spanish armed forces in Afghanistan. “There are at least 180 people who have worked with civilians and with the military, such as cleaners, kitchen staff… They have also joined this list, but there are a lot of interpreters too: from Kabul, Herat and Badghis province. In total I believe there were 38,” he explained.

The Interior Ministry and the CNI intelligence service were already analyzing these requests late last week. The work involves organizing them into three groups: the first, Afghans who worked for the Spanish armed forces, which maintained a presence in the country until May 13, when the last 24 soldiers returned; the second is made up of contractors working for the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID), which carried out projects in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2013; and the last, local staff from the European Union.

During the night and most of the day there was no electricity in the houses where some of the interpreters, colleagues of Amal, were hiding. This is something that was last week making it difficult to know how their requests are progressing. “I know some colleagues who are here in Herat, but their phones are switched off,” he explained. “For now the houses here have no electricity. Most of them aren’t answering me.”

The Afghan translator admitted that the situation could get more complicated, given that he had no documentation with him. “We have escaped from our province and we have come here without a passport, or any ID, we left everything in our house. We have already asked for these papers from the capital, Kabul, but I think this will take at least a month. The majority of us [interpreters] have no papers,” he explained with concern.

Seven years ago, Amal was unable to leave Afghanistan with the other 41 people who traveled with the Spanish armed forces under international protection and entered Spain as asylum-seekers. His father was sick and so he stayed with his family to take care of him.

“After 2014, I started working with a Norwegian NGO that helped refugees,” he told EL PAÍS. “With the NATO armies we could see that the situation was getting better, but since the US announced it was leaving the country the situation has gotten worse every day.” Now, this translator – who worked “side-by-side” with the Spanish troops in some of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan – is requesting not to be left behind in a country that is crumbling as the world watches on.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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