This feature first appeared in the Nottingham Post in January 2022
Afghan interpreters risked their lives to help British forces during the long struggle to stabilise the country. Now with the Taliban back in command, thousands of those who assisted our troops are being resettled across the UK. Ben Cooper spoke to a former interpreter starting a new life with his young family in a quiet Nottinghamshire village.
Ahmadullah Waziri is living under a sentence of death.
As an interpreter for the British Army between 2010 and 2011, and later a Lieutenant Colonel in the Allied-trained Afghan National Army, in the eyes of the Taliban he is a collaborator and, now, in power, they want revenge.
“They said we will kill you because you were working with the infidels and the western countries and that is not allowed according to Islamic sharia,” he says.
“I changed my location many times to be safe. We were not able to stay even one year in one location.”
Before his time with the British army Ahmadullah had trained in the UK-led Officer Candidate School (OCS), passing out in 2008 as a second lieutenant.
While he was helping the British he frequently went on patrol with troops in the most dangerous warzone areas, frequently coming under fire with them.
When his time with the British forces was over, he joined the Afghan National Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, leading troops into combat in some of the world’s most deadly battlefields, fighting to keep the Taliban at bay.
He saw the battle against the Taliban at its absolute worst – over the years that fight has taken the lives of 120,000 Afghan civilians, soldiers and police officers, and over 450 British soldiers.
“I saw lots of fighting in different provinces,” he says. “I engaged with the enemy many times. It was very dangerous. Many of my colleagues died.”
It was a fight he believed in. But when the Taliban regained the country last summer after the fated US withdrawal, Ahmadullah decided there were no options left for him, his wife Khalida, and their four young daughters. They had to get out.
In July the imperilled family found a lifeline – safe passage out of the country, under the protection of British forces, backed up by the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), launched by the UK government in April that year.
“We were very lucky. The government of the UK supported us. They saved us and brought us to the UK.”
Touching down in Birmingham on July 26th, 35-year-old Ahmadullah and his family’s new life began.
From there they travelled to Manchester where they were given temporary accommodation; then to Sheffield, and then Southwell, before a permanent home was found for them in a quiet village near Mansfield.
“Finally we came here. It’s a peaceful, quiet and enjoyable area. I’m really enjoying my life here. I hope to one day have citizenship.”
Ahmadullah has four daughters. His eldest turned 10 at the end of December and his youngest is only seven months old.
Two of his daughters are now at school in the area, and, he says, are already benefiting from their education. Ahmadullah says that their English is improving every day, and jokes that soon they will be helping him with his English.
“As a father I’m very happy that my girls are going to the school. I can see the big changes in their language skills and they seem very happy. We have a home which is very warm and we have very good neighbours.”
Those neighbours, he says, have been kind and welcoming since he and his family arrived, with some offering assistance with the many things that have needed to be done for them to get settled.
Over Christmas he says the family was blessed with gifts from some of the villagers and local wellwishers, including MP for Newark, Robert Jenrick, who brought them a baby buggy and a “beautiful” teapot as a present.
“Me and my whole family are very thankful to our neighbours. We’ve received gifts and money during Christmas from our neighbours. We are very thankful of the great and kind nation of the UK and the government.
“Since July when I came to the UK I have not seen any of those people who don’t like refugees.”
With four young children the new life that he and Khalida are adjusting to is anything but quiet.
But as time has gone on and things have settled they have made efforts to visit more of Nottinghamshire – they have already been to the nearby village of Edwinstowe, with its mystical Robin Hood connections, and, of course, Sherwood Forest.
He says: “Daily we have the public path which is really very nice. Every day I’m walking. We have Sherwood Forest as well. Generally I can say that all the places in this area are peaceful and nice.”
With a home and his children safe and in school, Ahmadullah’s priority now is to find work.
As a former lieutenant colonel his qualifications and experience could ultimately take him a long way. But for the time being he is focusing on getting his SIA security qualifications completed so that he can start working, possibly as a security guard in a local shop.
Would he ever return to Afghanistan? Ahmadullah gives a sardonic laugh at the idea. The situation there is far too dangerous; the Taliban has the people in its teeth, most of all women, and has brutally punished Western collaborators like him.
He says: “People think that maybe the Taliban will be changed and they will try to improve themselves, but currently we don’t think so.
“Now the people of Afghanistan are really hopeless because they realise that the Taliban have not changed. All the time they beat women.
“They are extremists. They will always be extremists.”
He might have turned his back on Afghanistan for good, were it not for the fact that the rest of his family is still trapped there, unable to escape.
His brother, a doctor, had been granted permission to leave before the Allied occupation crumbled in September. Now he is stuck there, in fear for his life – as punishment for being part of a family that had worked with the British, the Taliban blew up his medical practice in Kabul, forcing him into hiding.
“They are all suffering in bad conditions,” he says. “They all have problems. They are hiding themselves. I hope one day they can come to the UK and live here.”
To that end he has written to Mark Spencer, Conservative MP for Sherwood, petitioning that his family be allowed to leave as part of a government commitment to take in 20,000 more Afghans over the coming years.
Until then he has to wait, pray for their safety, and throw everything into the new start he has been given in Nottinghamshire, the place he now calls home.
“The only thing we hope is that I can see my extended family. I’m sure that we will prove that we will work well here, and pay back the UK.”