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Ex-Afghan translators for German army fear attacks

Mar. 6, 2014 - 11:26AM   |  
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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Sometimes the calls come in the middle of the night. Other times it’s a text message sent to a mobile phone. But the warnings are always the same, threats of death for having worked with the German military in northern Afghanistan.

“I might be the next victim,” said a frightened 22-year-old Zamir Ahmadi, who interpreted for the German military for two years in northeastern Afghanistan until May 2013.

“I have been threatened with death because I worked with German advisers who were training the Afghan Security Forces,” he said in a telephone interview from northern Kunduz province.

Ahmadi and others who worked for Germany in Afghanistan fear for their lives and have applied for special immigration visas to move to Germany. But they face a slow bureaucratic march toward getting visa, like others who worked for foreign forces in the U.S.-led international coalition in Afghanistan.

Particularly frightening for Ahmadi was the mention of his name by a Muslim cleric who shouted that he was a traitor to Islam before the start of prayers in a local mosque where the Taliban have influence. The cleric railed against Ahmadi as a spy and called on the faithful to kill him, Ahmadi said. A neighbor later told Ahmadi about the cleric’s tirade.

Ahmadi applied for a visa shortly after he left his job.

About 1,500 Afghans have worked for Germany during the time its personnel have been present in Afghanistan, including drivers, translators and others, according to figures provided this week by the German Interior Ministry.

As of March 3, 2013, Germany had processed 596 cases of local Afghan staffers and their families wanting to come to Germany. A total of 265 thus far have received permission to immigrate, and 59 local staffers along with 115 family members have so far arrived in Germany.

In December, Germany made it easier for Afghan nationals to immigrate, waiving the need for approval by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in their cases, making it possible for them to arrive with a visa alone.

“If they feel threatened, we take this very, very seriously, even if they are not working for us anymore. We take every single case into account,” Brig. Gen. Walter Ohm, director of military support for the German military in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press.

At its peak, Germany was the third-largest troop contributor after the United States and Britain in Afghanistan, with more than 5,000 soldiers and police officers in the country, mostly in the north. Last September, Germany shut down its base in Kunduz ahead of the final withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of December.

Just more than 2,900 German troops still remain in Afghanistan.

Germany has promised to leave behind a residual force of 800 service personnel to train and mentor the Afghan National Security Forces, although that deployment is contingent on the U.S. signing a security agreement with the Afghan government. NATO has warned that if the United States is not part of a residual force after the end of this year, its troops will not stay.

Germany is not the only country facing the issue of what to do with its local employees and interpreters.

The U.S. so far has issued 2,230 Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who have worked for the American government, out of 7,500 that were available from 2009 to 2013. Some domestic critics have said America is not doing enough for those who helped it during the nearly 13-year war.

Britain and Denmark last May announced that they would make available 600 visas for Afghan interpreters whose lives have been threatened because of their association with NATO forces.

Meanwhile, many remain fearful they could be targeted by the Taliban. Last November, a former German interpreter, Jawad Wafa, was found dead in the trunk of a vehicle parked near Kunduz city, only six kilometers (three miles) from the former military base. His body showed signs of torture and his hands were tied behind his back.

It remains disputed if his death was linked to his job as interpreter. Police in Kunduz said no arrests have been made.

Ohm said Wafa’s death was investigated and while tragic, “it is not related to threats because of his employment” with the International Security Assistance Force, as the U.S.-led international coalition is known.

But a fellow interpreter and close friend of Wafa’s said he is convinced that his friend’s association with the German military caused his death. Wafa had confided in his friend about his fears, the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he fears retaliation by the Taliban. He has applied to go to Germany.

Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said the security situation in the province is troubling, but that threats from Taliban have lessened with the departure of German troops from Kunduz. He said the police have received no complaints from former employees of the Germans about death threats.

“There were threats when the foreigners were in Kunduz, but right now since the foreigners have left those threats don’t exist anymore,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from northern Afghanistan.

Last April, former translators working for the German military protested in Kunduz against the German government’s reluctance to relocate them to Germany.

“If they don’t give us asylum and don’t take us out, without any doubt, we will be killed” by the Taliban, said Shamsuddin Nawazish, who worked with the Germans as a translator for four years.

Nawazish has been unable to return to his village, where the Taliban have a presence.

———

Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin and Kathy Gannon contributed to this report.

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