A former commander of an elite Afghan police unit that was trained by the New Zealand SAS is asking the Government to do more to help his comrades flee Afghanistan.
Major General Ghulam Daoud Tarakhil, who led Afghanistan’s Crisis Response Unit said CRU officers had spent years hunting “terrorists who used every means – including suicide attacks – to carry out their missions,” and were now being hunted by the Taliban.
“CRU personnel are still stuck in Kabul and other provinces, expecting every second to be arrested or killed,” said General Tarakhil. “They are facing and experiencing the worst time of their lives.”
New Zealand has granted resettlement visas to 1250 Afghans, including former defence force interpreters and those who worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the police. Stuff understands only a few CRU officers have been offered resettlement.
The CRU was an Interior Ministry special forces unit established in 2007. Based in Kabul, its members responded to insurgent attacks in the city and conducted operations to arrest insurgents in the capital and surrounding provinces.
The unit was trained and “mentored” by Norwegian special forces before the SAS took over that role from 2009 to 2012.
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General Tarakhil said Norway had granted resettlement visas to many CRU officers and their families.
However, he said corruption and confusion at Kabul Airport meant some of their places on evacuation flights were wrongly taken by people who had no connection with the CRU.
A former Norwegian special forces officer, with knowledge of Norway’s evacuation efforts, has supported this claim. The former officer, who Stuff agreed not to name, said approximately 500 CRU personnel and their family members were still in Afghanistan.
Both New Zealand and Norway had a responsibility to evacuate them from Afghanistan, he said.
“It could be a joint effort. Norway could take a couple of hundred and New Zealand a couple of hundred. Some of these people are well educated and could be a great resource for countries like ours.”
General Tarakhil told Stuff that his men had fought “shona ba shona” (shoulder by shoulder) with the SAS and Norwegians during many high-risk missions and put their lives on the line for each other.
His plea for New Zealand to offer visas to CRU officers was backed by Dr Wayne Mapp, who was defence minister in the National-led government that deployed the SAS to Kabul in 2009.
“The CRU were one of our closest partners in Afghanistan, and we have an obligation to be as generous as Norway with our offers of resettlement,” Mapp said.
CRU members were involved with the SAS in resolving numerous high-profile incidents, including the June 2011 insurgent raid on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel and the August 2011 attack on the British Council offices in Kabul.
Corporal Doug Grant was killed by insurgents during the British Council attack and lance corporal Leon Smith was killed during a September 2011 raid in Wardak province.
General Tarakhil, who was present when Corporal Grant was shot, said the New Zealand and Norwegian troops who trained and worked with his men had sacrificed a lot in the struggle to protect Afghans from insurgent attacks.
“A number of brave officers from Norway, New Zealand, and Afghanistan lost their lives. They were real heroes, and their names will always live with us.”
He added that, while Afghanistan owed a debt to countries like New Zealand, which had sent soldiers to fight insurgents, western countries also owed a debt to Afghans who had fought not only for their own country but to prevent the spread of terrorism.
Since the collapse of Afghanistan’s government, insurgents who were arrested on CRU operations had been released from prison and were seeking revenge, he said.
“They were freed by the Taliban and directly went to search for CRU members,” said General Tarakhil.
Some personnel had been tracked to their homes and severely beaten, and senior unit members in particular were at risk of being killed, he said.
A former Afghan intelligence officer, who worked with New Zealand troops and is hiding in Afghanistan, said intelligence and special forces personnel were being targeted by the Taliban because they had killed or captured so many of the insurgents.
General Tarakhil said some CRU officers have had their houses seized by the Taliban. His own home was confiscated the same day the insurgents entered Kabul, and they had also ransacked the homes of his brothers and sisters.
He and his family were evacuated from Afghanistan by US Forces. They are now in the United States but he wants help for those left behind.
“Other former CRU members have fled their homes and are living [in hiding] in very bad conditions.”
The general accepted there was a limit to the humanitarian assistance that countries like New Zealand could offer, but the safety of many officers and their families was at stake.
“We all need to support them by any means.”