Amid the Taliban’s resurgence and takeover, many U.S.-allied Afghan security force members managed to escape the country, seeking refuge in neighboring nations. Many Afghan fighters laid down their arms and changed into civilian clothes to disguise their old identity so to avoid trouble at the airport, but those who stayed are now being hunted by the Taliban.
The United States invested tens of billions of dollars in the Afghan military’s development and training over the course of two decades, preparing it to battle and hold its own against the Taliban. The fighting force weakened over time, however, as it lost cohesion and resources and some members abandoned the cause.
While many Afghan military collaborators successfully evacuated this week, reaching the safety of other shores, thousands more remain on Afghanistan soil, trapped behind Taliban checkpoints in the territory’s interior. These men, who fought alongside American and allied troops to keep the Taliban at bay up until the Afghan army’s disintegration and the regime’s collapse, are now on the run, hunted by the terrorist group.
“There’s no way out,” an Afghan commando wrote in a text message to an American soldier he fought alongside, the New York Times reported. The fighter has since been hiding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan to evade the Taliban. “I am praying to be saved,” he said.
While the Taliban has presented a new demeanor different than the violent extremism it was notorious for in the 1990s, with its spokesman promising fair treatment for women and magnanimity for its former U.S.-allied enemy combatants, accounts on the ground tell a different story.
The Taliban are reportedly chasing down individuals they believe cooperated and fought with U.S. and NATO forces, the Times said. The group’s operatives have threatened to arrest or punish family members if they cannot track down these personnel, according to a confidential United Nations document obtained by the Times.
Anonymous former Afghan officials told the newspaper that the Taliban had been scrutinizing records at the ministry of defense and interior and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s spy service, looking for names to hunt.
Evidence is mounting that the Taliban has been brutalizing the people it has found, conducting familiar terror and cruelty that starkly contrasts with its recent reformist rhetoric.
While the Taliban vowed not to harm the Afghan fighters who had capitulated, it is actively seeking out the remaining 18,000 Army commandos and officers from the country’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security, the Times added.
In Kandahar, a southern city in Afghanistan the Taliban conquered last week, a video was posted on social media by a local media outlet, which the group has since seized, showing dozens of dead bodies on the street. According to reports, many of the fallen were Afghan soldiers and officials murdered by the Taliban.
Many Afghan pilots have successfully fled to Uzbekistan, including 22 planes and 24 helicopters carrying nearly 600 men on Sunday, Uzbek officials told the Times. The publication confirmed that an unknown number escaped to Iran, which is accessible by car after a long drive through the desert.
Thousands of the Afghan forces surrendered after the Taliban’s victory, but many did not, and reports have surfaced of a resistance movement building in the Panjshir valley, where some soldiers are reportedly gathering and weapons are being stored.
The province once served as a zone from which U.S. forces conducted their invasion that expelled the Taliban to the remote countryside after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Twenty years later, however, those leading the charge to defend the northern region from the Taliban lack international military intervention and support.