Afghan captain in hiding calls for UK not to turn its back: Taliban say they will kill us

Video appears to show Taliban using planes as swings

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Now the insurgents have become the occupiers and the battle-hardened 30-year-old is in hiding with his wife and newborn baby daughter in Kabul, his every waking moment spent awaiting a knock on the door which will spell certain death. Discarded by the coalition forces which trained him and abandoned by his own government, a future he once believed in has been replaced by a fear of Taliban death squads now openly targeting anyone who took part in the campaign against them.

Only last week an Afghan sniper, who worked with UK Special Forces, was shot dead by the Taliban in front of his family in the Kabul shop they ran. The 29-year-old had been forced to give up his family’s seats on an evacuation plane when they were given to UK passport holders. 

Shirshah’s world has become a tiny three-room apartment where his only sunlight streams through a grime-laden window.

Fresh air is provided by a tiny balcony he only dares use under cover of darkness.  

This dark and dirt-infested world, where even the solace of an old fan is tempered by daily power cuts, is baby Hawaran’s first home, following her birth on Thursday.

Shirshah said: “We are very frightened. Every day there are more messages from Taliban commanders about how they are hunting people like me. They say they will kill us.  Yet the world is looking away.”

Unlike many of his comrades, Shirshah was born into a wealthy land-owning family in Takhar. His father was a general and his grandfather a lawyer who served as an MP in Afghanistan’s lower chamber. After private military school, Shirshah attended the prestigious National Military Academy in 2011 and graduated with honours. 

He was soon locking horns with the Taliban in Kunduz Province, a key target.

He was promoted to the 111th Capital Division, whose job it was to protect Kabul.

In 2019, he was transferred to the Afghan Air Force where he received British training.

“The Air Force chose me because I had good war experience. They said they needed people with my skills,” he said. Now a captain, he soon found himself planning major aerial bombardments against Taliban forces.

“I was a targeting officer, and then I commanded a security team. We knew our duty. We hit the Taliban hard and killed many of their commanders. I thought I had a really good future in front  of me. I was due to have many more promotions and then my plan was to leave the Air Force and become a politician like my grandfather.”

But the fall of Kabul in August turned his world upside down. He said: “We knew the Americans and the British were leaving.

“But I was not afraid, even though I knew we were low on Hellfire missiles and ammunition for our aircraft. I swore to serve my country. We knew the price Afghanistan would pay if the Taliban took over. I just never believed the government would fall.

“Suddenly the leadership evaporated. The president fled, the defence minister left, the commander-in-chief and even the commander of our commando forces. 

“Pilots saw this and there was a scattering that you could not have imagined.

“So many just jumped into their planes and helicopters and left for Uzbekistan.”

Some Uzbek comrades flew helicopters to Panjshir Province to join the National Resistance. “I considered joining, but my wife was pregnant and I couldn’t risk her safety. 

“So I stayed, I tried to gather forces in the square, but it was hopeless. Without that senior leadership the Air Force did not fight.

“It was our major advantage over the Taliban, and we did not use it.”

Now, his family lands and wealth confiscated, and without access to Afghanistan’s barely functioning banks for the little in savings he has there, he is reliant on relatives to keep him and his wife supplied with food and medicines: “They do what they can and we are very grateful, but they don’t have much money and the truth is there isn’t a lot to buy anyway.

“If I had realised staying would mean the slow death we are experiencing now, I sometimes think I would have chosen a different path. House arrest is not easy. 

Referring to his wife Khadijeh, 22, he said: “We were married last year. Our lives were full of hope. She wanted eventually to train to become a prosecutor. It was all taken away on August 16, when the impossible happened and the Taliban took Kabul.

“I try not to share my fears with Khadijeh. Her health, and that of our baby daughter, is the most important thing.

“But we cannot stay here and we cannot move. We are trapped. We need your help.”

He is not alone: 300,000 Afghan soldiers worked with UK forces, yet the evacuation of Kabul saw just 7,000 eligible Afghans enter the UK, with 2,000 wives and children.

Interpreters who worked with UK Special Forces told the Sunday Express their applications under the Afghans Relocation and Assistance Policy have been rejected.

A government spokesperson said: “During the evacuation we worked tirelessly to get as many people out safely as possible, airlifting more than 15,000 people from Kabul, including thousands of ARAP applicants and their dependents.

We are also working to set up the Afghan Citizens Resettlement scheme so we can help those most in need resettle in the UK, including those who assisted our efforts in the country and who are at particular risk.” Shirshah is not eligible for the ARAP scheme, but would be high on the list for the ACR scheme.

But last night Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, founder of the UK-based Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, said: “The West has turned its back against its former ally.”

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