A former Afghan interpreter of the Australian Defense Forces was evacuated by the Dutch military to the Netherlands after his request for protection was rejected by the Ministry of Defense.
Asad worked as a translator with the Dutch Army in Uruzgan Province from 2007 to 2010, then with the US Army in Kandahar, before joining the ADF as an Air Safety Advisor at Kandahar Airfield in 2011.
Two years later, he asked the Defense for protection under the Locally Engaged Employee (LEE) visa program after receiving a death threat from the Taliban.
The Drum spoke with a serving member of the Australian Defense Force who worked with Asad and wrote a letter of recommendation which was submitted as part of his LEE application.
“In the performance of his duties, Assad put his life and that of his family at risk in order to facilitate the success of the coalition and of Australia in Afghanistan,” he wrote.
Asad’s request was denied in September 2013.
In February 2014, he contacted the Defense to say that he had received phone calls from the Taliban, which targeted him because of his ties to the International Security Assistance Force.
An unverified Afghan police report suggests that “insurgents” assaulted his life in March 2018.
Asad then reached out to Forsaken Fighters, a non-profit organization that helps mission-critical staff like former interpreters file LEE protection claims.
In email correspondence with the group’s founder, former Australian Army captain Jason Scanes said he made several attempts to contact Defense, including an offer to resubmit his visa application in 2017, but had received no response.
Speaking from the Netherlands where he is currently in quarantine, Asad said he is still waiting to see if his LEE application is still being considered by the Defense.
“We were always happy to help the Australian Defense Force. Help them build our country and work as friends side by side.”
Mr Scanes says the Australian government has shifted its responsibility to other nations.
“The government will tell us that it gives these people the highest priority, but we have interpreters who have been waiting for years for their visas to be processed,” he said.
“Most of them have been in hiding and feared for their lives for years, waiting for the Australian bureaucracy to take its course.”
Visa applications were rejected as the Taliban advanced through the country
The Drum also spoke to another former performer who remains stranded in Kabul after repeatedly attempting to reach the airport with his wife and three children.
The man, whom we call Luftullah for security reasons, says he was employed as an interpreter by the ADF for ten months, starting in January 2016.
He was also supported in his efforts to flee Afghanistan by Forsaken Fighters.
Documents provided to The Drum by Mr Scanes show that Luftullah’s LEE application was initially rejected by the Defense on July 15, 2021 because the ministry considered that there were “no exceptional circumstances”.
The Drum was unable to independently verify the documents. We approached the Ministry of Defense and Home Affairs, which was “unable to give detailed information on the operation at the moment – including information on individuals or the granting of visas”.
On July 9 – just days before Luftullah received its rejection letter – the prime minister acknowledged the deteriorating circumstances in Afghanistan and the risks to former locally recruited employees.
In an interview with ABC Radio, Mr. Morrison said there was a “high level of urgency” in processing protection claims.
“We are doing everything we can,” said Mr. Morrison. “Hundreds are in this process right now.”
US forces had effectively completed their withdrawal on July 2, when troops quietly withdrew from Bagram air base, an hour’s drive from Kabul.
Within three weeks, the Taliban had taken control of about half of the country’s districts.
ANU professor of international security and intelligence studies John Blaxland said Australian security agencies would have been aware of Allied Five Eyes’ intelligence reports, which would likely have given a pessimistic view the security situation on the ground.
“I suspect what we saw were assessments offered to the government representing a cross between the pessimistic and nonchalant views of these reports,” he said.
On August 15, the worst predictions came true with the fall of the Afghan capital Kabul to the Taliban.
According to Jason Scanes, two days later (August 17) Luftullah received a new email from Defense saying the minister had certified him as eligible under Australia’s visa policy for at-risk Afghan employees. This was also extended to his wife and children.
Mr Scanes has been in almost constant contact with Luftullah and a group of around 30 former interpreters who have spent the week trying to enter the heavily guarded perimeter of the airport.
Luftullah attempted this treacherous passage accompanied by his wife and three young children. On Tuesday, he said he was forced to return due to flooding along the perimeter of the airport.
Mr Scanes says there is huge confusion at the airport and some people have been turned away even after presenting their documents.
“My days are very long. During the day I get messages from former interpreters here in Australia worried about their families back home, then at night I get calls from Afghanistan,” he said.
“They are always extremely polite, too polite even, but their pleas are getting more and more desperate. They are afraid of missing the last plane.”
Sure for now
Now safe from the clutches of the Taliban, Asad says he hopes to get a five-year visa to stay in the Netherlands. According to his brother, the Taliban have already come to pick him up from his old house in Kandahar.
“I no longer have any hope for my country. The same terrorists, the same Taliban who are killing people, are destroying the country. That’s what I can see in my future.”
The Drum airs weekday evenings on ABC and News Channel.