By Louise Hosie and Kevin Scott
Afghans living in Scotland have told of their fears for relatives in their homeland amid growing concern over a lightning offensive by the Taliban just weeks before the full withdrawal of Allied armed forces.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson convened an emergency Cobra meeting on Friday afternoon to discuss the situation, with Taliban insurgents now estimated to hold more than two-thirds of Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghans have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban will again impose a brutal, repressive government, all but eliminating women’s rights and conducting public executions.
Britain and the US have agreed to send in additional troops, with 600 UK personnel due to help with efforts to get citizens out of the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff.
The withdrawal of troops – intended to mark the end of a two-decade war – was agreed following a deal signed between then US president Donald Trump and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020.
Since the deal was signed, Trump’s successor Joe Biden has continued with the withdrawal timetable.
Abdul Bostani came to Glasgow from Afghanistan as a refugee but his mother, sister and brothers remain there.
As the Taliban onslaught continues to escalate, they have been forced to flee their home town in the north, seeking refuge in the capital, Kabul.
“They had lots of difficulties, travelling in different places, fighting, trauma, war, bombing, but they managed to arrive in Kabul,” he told STV News.
“It’s very worrying times. We’re very worried about them. There were times we couldn’t even sleep during the night.”
Bostani said his family had experienced bombing and gunfire on their journey.
“When you see the international community walked away, turned their back to us, it’s so painful to see. Initially, when they came 20 years ago to Afghanistan, we had a kind of hope because they promised us ‘we will give you a secure Afghanistan’.
“But yet we have seen they have been very unfaithful to us, they have cheated us actually, particularly the USA.”
More than 150,000 military personnel have served in Afghanistan over the last two decades, with more than 450 British soldiers losing their lives in a bid to restore peace and stability.
The majority of troops had already started leaving when their withdrawal was announced earlier in the year.
Now hundreds of UK military personnel are returning in a bid to get British nationals and interpreters out of the country.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said he feared multinational terror network al-Qaida, the group behind atrocities such as the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, would “probably come back” as Afghanistan destabilises once again.
Wallace called the withdrawal deal “rotten” but said the UK was left with no alternative but to follow Washington’s lead.
However, the cabinet minister has refused to rule out further military action in Afghanistan, despite withdrawal plans being well under way.
He said: “I did try after the announcement to see if we could bring together the international community and I’m afraid most of the international community weren’t particularly interested.”
JOHN AND LORNA NORGROVE
John and Lorna Norgrove’s charity provides scholarships for women in Afghanistan.
It was set up in memory of their daughter, Linda.
The aid worker from the Western Isles died in a failed rescue attempt in 2010 after being held hostage by the Taliban.
John said: “We have a feeling that the women in Afghanistan find the situation very confusing at the moment because the information they are getting is very varied and the situation is moving so fast.
Linda added: “We’re completely committed to carrying on as much as we can, doing work with all our projects. I think Linda would have been heartbroken, she would have been so concerned for all her friends.
“She always felt as an expat working in Afghanistan she could leave any time but Afghan people haven’t got that luxury.
A few weeks ago, STV News spoke to two Afghan women helped by Norgrove Foundation.
Fouzia and Frishta were the first female doctor and dentist to graduate thanks to scholarships from the charity.
They spoke of the benefits of having an education, the importance of women’s rights, and their hopes for the future.
Fouzia said: “We sacrificed many of our people in this war, but it is a new generation and I just believe that there are many new generations, that I and my friends, we will bring new challenges to Afghanistan, through education.”
Abdul says his family appear to be safe at the moment, but he has no idea what the future holds for them.
The speed and scale of the Taliban advance has taken many by surprise.
With Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar now under its control, there are fears that the capital, Kabul could fall within weeks or even days.
The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that, if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months.
The deteriorating situation is likely to mean more sleepness nights for worried Afghans here in Scotland.