Interpreter for Australian military shot amid chaotic scenes at Kabul airport

Messages from Australian officials warn of gunshots and danger at airport as man is treated for wound to his leg

A former Afghan interpreter for the Australian military has been shot in the leg as he tried to pass a Taliban checkpoint outside Kabul airport, in an attempt to board an Australian evacuation mission out of Afghanistan.

The chaotic scenes surrounding Australia’s first evacuation flight out of the capital have been captured in pictures and audio footage, seen and heard by the Guardian, emphasising the danger of the operation and the desperation of those trying to leave Afghanistan in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Audio messages provided to the Guardian include voices of Australian personnel and their translators stationed inside Kabul international airport warning visa holders not to approach the area. Photographs show the interpreter – an Afghan national – being treated for a gunshot wound to the leg.

In the audio, gunfire can be heard as a translator assisting what is believed to be a defence official telling the visa holders it is too dangerous to enter the airport gates.

“You can hear the fire at the gate and they [defence officials] say that no family should come now because it’s so dangerous,” a translator can be heard saying.

“You can hear the fire, they’re so dangerous, do not come now.”

The dramatic audio has been revealed as Australia confirmed it had completed one of what could be a number of planned evacuation missions from Kabul on Wednesday.

Flight tracking websites recorded a RAAF C-130 Hercules flying over Pakistani airspace as it carried out a mission to rescue Australians, New Zealanders, their families and local staff.

At a press conference in Canberra the prime minister, Scott Morrison, confirmed 26 people had been evacuated including Australian citizens, a number of Afghan visa holders, and another foreign national working for an international organisation. The C-130 aircraft can carry up to 128 people. A US military C-17 flew out of Kabul with more than 640 people in its hold.

The Guardian understands just two former military interpreters, who were already inside the airport compound, were able to board the flight..

The interpreter who was shot in the leg by Taliban militants was wounded as he sat with his wife and children – having waited three days – to board the Australian flight. He has been treated at a local hospital.

A former interpreter for the Australian military was shot in the leg as he tried to get to Kabul airport
A former interpreter for the Australian military was shot in the leg as he tried to get to Kabul airport Photograph: Supplied

Another interpreter – who holds an Australian visa – described scenes of desperation and chaos when he arrived at the airport with his wife and children having received directions overnight from Australian officials to get to the international terminal to board and be evacuated.

“There were more than 5,000 people who wanted to get in for their flights,” he told the Guardian.

“Some people got visa and passports but other people were just normal people wanted to get in and then, like after 20 minutes, it was shooting.”

The interpreter, who has since sheltered in a safer location, said without some sort of escort it would be hard to get into the terminal.

In the audio files heard by the Guardian, an Australian official tells those unable to physically reach the plane on the tarmac that Australia “would do its best” to come back for them.

“No promises on that plane, the runway is open and close, and open and close, so just, if any passport holders can do their best to get through the gate as soon as they can that’d be good and we’ll do what we can for you.”

Australia says it hopes to evacuate up to 600 people in coming days including Afghans who worked alongside Australian troops and their families.

Dfat officials have also contacted some former Afghan staff members at Australia’s embassy – who have already been preliminarily certified by government officials – seeking “biographic data” of visa applicants and their immediate family members.

“Due to the rapidly changing environment in Afghanistan, the Australian government is urgently facilitating a visa outcome for certified Afghan locally engaged employees (LEE) and their eligible family members. We will not request a visa application form for you and your family but we do require some biographic data to allow us to move forward.”

Those staff have been told to wait in their homes until they receive a visa grant letter, and are instructed to go to the airport, bringing passports and other identification.

Hundreds of other former interpreters, guards and other staff have had no contact from the Australian government.

There are fears interpreters and other ADF contractors trying to escape will not be able to reach the airport because of Taliban checkpoints across the city.

One interpreter told the Guardian he pretended to be an academic wanting to board a commercial flight when Taliban questioned him two days ago. He said he was told to go away and come back in two weeks after the “foreigners had left”.

Pictures show Taliban controlling the perimeter of the international airport, armed with weapons and interrogating people who seek to pass. There are several reports of Taliban violence at checkpoints, including reports – supported by photographs – of a woman and a child beaten and attacked with whips for trying to pass a checkpoint on Airport Road.

Other videos circulating on social media show Taliban shooting down people who try to climb over the walls in a desperate bid to escape. Taliban were heard laughing hysterically as they fired at a terrified young man straddling himself at the top, in one of the videos.

Even those who have camped on the ground for days outside the airport gates say the situation is becoming more and more dangerous, calling for an Australian escort to assist them inside.


Kate Banville

The GuardianTramp

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