The Taliban have publicly threatened Afghan security guards who have worked for the soon-to-be-shut Australian embassy, circulating pictures of them online and warning they would be targeted for cooperating with a foreign government.
The Australian government announced this week that it was shutting its embassy in Kabul, citing “an increasingly uncertain security environment” and saying its diplomats would not be safe “in light of the imminent international military withdrawal from Afghanistan”.
Afghan nationals employed on contract by the Australian government as security guards at the Kabul embassy say their work – highly visible, standing outside the embassy compound – has made them targets for Taliban retribution, and many say they will not be safe inside Afganistán.
The Taliban have openly said anyone who has worked for or alongside foreign governments or military forces is a traitor and an enemy and will be targeted.
The US military has said it is working “rapidly” to develop plans to evacuate interpreters and other staff – up to 18,000 – who worked alongside American troops. But other allied countries have not made similar announcements.
The Guardian has seen several posts online threatening Afghans who have worked at the Australian embassy.
One, which has a picture of the guards protesting outside the diplomatic compound this week, carries the message, written in Pashto: “Interpreters and security guards gathered in front of the Australian embassy in Kabul to seek asylum from the Australian government.
“They had no idea that one day the doors of the embassy would be closed and they would be held accountable to the people.”
One guard said guards at embassies of countries with troops in Afghanistan regularly faced death threats from the Taliban, made against them, their children and families.
Previously, security guards employed as “contractors” to provide security for the Australian embassy were not eligible for the Australian government’s locally engaged employee humanitarian resettlement scheme, open to other directly employed staff, such as interpreters.
Security guards were told specifically: “The following Afghan nationals will not be eligible for resettlement under this policy: people who worked with Dfat as part of their duties as an employee of a private security company.”
sin embargo, this week that advice was changed, and correspondence from the foreign affairs and trade department, seen by Guardian Australia, said “contractors and security staff can also apply for the locally engaged staff humanitarian visa”.
Guards say they welcome being allowed to apply under the scheme, but with processing times running often beyond five years, they fear it will be too slow. They say the sudden closure of the embassy has left them exposed to insurgent violence, and feeling abandoned by the country they risked their lives for.
One guard, who the Guardian has chosen not to name for security reasons, said guards would be targeted and killed by the Taliban when foreign troops leave.
“We are not going out from home, the kids have stopped school, all because of threat to our lives," él dijo.
“We feel good about our work for Australia and we are still proud of Australia. So they won’t turn their back on us. We worked faithfully and helped them to live secure[ly]."
Pat Ryan, a former Dfat contractor in Afghanistan and advocate for Australia’s Afghan national staff, said there was “real and present threat to local national staff who have worked to protect the embassy and consular buildings”.
“This threat increases with the withdrawal of coalition forces and our diplomats.”
Jason Scanes, a former Australian army captain who served in Afghanistan, said Australia had a “moral obligation” to those who it relied upon for 20 años.
“There will be a great deal of shame felt by many veterans in our government with the closure of the embassy if we abandon those we formed close bonds with and who assisted us across Afghanistan and on the battlefield," él dijo.
Dfat did not respond to questions about its proposed resettlement of security and other staff.
With US and its coalition forces leaving Afghanistan by September, the prospects for Afghanistan are bleak. A resurgent and emboldened Taliban have control of significant swathes of the country, and threatens much more.
“The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield,” and the prospects for a peace deal are “low”, a US intelligence report dicho.
Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, said this week the US was “rapidly” making plans to evacuate Afghan citizens who had worked for the US military, ahead of September’s troop pullout.
Milley said it was important the US “remain faithful to those who had supported the war effort … and that we do what is necessary to ensure their protection and, si necesario, get them out of the country”.
“There are plans being developed very, very rapidly here, not just interpreters but a lot of other people that have worked with the United States.”
In Kabul, there is a lack of certainty over the immediate future of Australia’s embassy.
The government’s announcement on Tuesday said the embassy would close on Friday 28 Mayo. But security guards say they’ve been told they will continue to stand guard until 15 junio.