Six Afghans who served as interpreters for the Lithuanian military during the NATO war in Afghanistan have requested help from Lithuania’s government. Their call appears to be falling on deaf ears, even though the Taliban reportedly burned down the home of one of the interpreters, kidnapped his brother and has launched an offensive in the province the Lithuanian military was helping rebuild.
“The Taliban might kill us or our family members,” they said in a letter sent one month ago to Lithuanian government officials. “If we could live safely in our country, we would not ask you for help. But, we are just trying to stay alive. Please help us get out of Afghanistan.”
During the war in Afghanistan, Lithuania was given the role of leading the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the western Ghor Province. For a few years, a group of about 10 Afghans worked closely with the PRT, translating, helping gather intelligence and, at times, participating in combat operations.
In 2013, NATO pulled out of Afghanistan. The security situation in Ghor Province has deteriorated since then.
This year the Taliban launched an offensive in Ghor Province. Over the first half of 2016, more than 250 people have been killed in fighting in the province, according to Afghan government figures relayed to FreeManPost by local media. The casualties include Taliban militants, Afghan soldiers and civilians. Some of the civilians killed have been women and children. Additionally, the Taliban has resorted to kidnappings and executions.
The Taliban has captured swaths of territory in Ghor Province and is said to have established a base on about five square kilometers of land in the province’s Pasaband District. The Afghan government, though, has retained control of most of the population centers in Ghor Province.
As the Lithuanian PRT left Afghanistan, the Afghan interpreters received death threats from the Taliban. Since then, a few of the former interpreters managed to flee to Europe, while the others are living on the run in Afghanistan.
One of those who made it to Europe was Abdul Basir Yousofy, who had learned to speak Lithuanian while working with the PRT. In March, FreeManPost interviewed Yousofy while he was trapped in Greece. Yousofy made a plea for help in Lithuanian, and after the footage spread online, the Lithuanian government promptly granted him a visa. Yousofy then flew into Vilnius and began a new life in Lithuania.
Hoping for a similar result, six former colleagues of Yousofy penned a letter to the Lithuanian government asking for help. In late May, they sent the letter by email to numerous members of the Lithuanian government.
“We put our lives in danger by working with the Lithuanian armed forces,” the letter states. “Now we really need your support.”
The letter says the Taliban burned down the home of one of the former interpreters and stole all of his family’s land. The target of the attack, Mohammad Mohammadi, worked for the Lithuanian PRT for about a year and a half.
Mohammadi told FreeManPost that the Taliban kidnapped his brother and demanded a ransom of 4 million Afghanis, or about $90,000. Mohammadi did not pay the money, and on May 2, 2014, the Taliban burned down his family’s home and stole all of the family’s land and property, Mohammadi said. In all, the property was worth about $80,000, he said.
Additionally, Mohammadi had to pay about $10,000 to village elders. The money was then transferred to the Taliban, Mohammadi said. Then the Taliban released his brother.
A letter written by tribe elders and members of the Shura, or council, in Ghor Province’s Sharak District corroborates Mohammadi’s story. In the letter, the tribe elders and the chief of the Shura also said that Mohammadi’s father, brothers and uncles were forced to leave their village due to threats from the Taliban.
Mohammadi and the other interpreters say they have received no response from the Lithuanian government.
The Lithuanian government, which is currently accepting refugees under a European Union mandate, has shown little interest in providing shelter to the Afghans who served as interpreters for Lithuania’s troops. Yousofy, the lone Lithuanian speaker from the group, has been the one exception.
In response to questions from FreeManPost, the Lithuanian Interior Ministry released a statement saying asylum seekers cannot submit asylum applications until they arrive on the territory of Lithuania. When asked if Lithuania would grant visas to the former interpreters so they could apply for asylum, the Interior Ministry said it cannot disclose information on the issuance or denial of visas.
The Asylum Seekers
Former interpreters Noorullah Obaid, Mohammad Nader Yusufi, Noor Ahmad Obaid, Hamidullah Azimi and Zaher Sarwary joined Mohammadi in signing the letter. With the exception of Mohammadi, each of the asylum seekers were profiled in an article published by FreeManPost on April 22. Noorullah Obaid was the senior interpreter for the Lithuanian PRT, yet there has been no indication he will be offered a visa. The same goes for Yusufi, who participated in NATO combat operations.
Nazir Honar, another Afghan seeking asylum in Lithuania, did not sign the letter. Honar traveled with Basir Yousofy to Europe but remains stuck in Greece. Honar previously worked as an officer with the UN-sponsored Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, and in that role, he worked closely with Lithuanian troops for about three years. After submitting a video plea from a Greek refugee camp, Honar received some attention from the Lithuanian media but did not get any response from the Lithuanian government. He currently sleeps on the streets in Athens.
Nazir Honar pleading for help from Greece