A Loughborough student who ‘went on holiday’ to Afghanistan has been stuck in the country’s capital as the nation falls apart around him.
The Taliban have taken control of the country 20 years after being pushed back by a military coalition led by the US and supported by NATO.
A number of cities have been lost over the weekend, including Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad, two traditionally anti-Taliban strongholds to the North and East of Kabul, the capital.
On Sunday, the city fell after former Afghan President Asgraf Ghani fled the country, leaving his government to collapse.
Despite the ongoing events in the country which have led to a number of deaths, Loughborough University student Miles Routledge boarded a flight to Kabul on Friday morning.
Writing on the message board site 4chan, he said he had “decided to pop down to Afghanistan for a few days” after googling the “most dangerous countries” to do some “goofing off and soaking in the sun”.
He added that at the time, it “seemed more peaceful than London to me”.
A “bit of a pickle”
Once the situation started to deteriorate on Sunday, he attempted to enter the Embassy, which was closed, and later visited the airport in an attempt to find ambassadorial staff that could help him leave the country.
Flights from Afghanistan, however, were suspended early on Sunday.
“No more flights in Kabul, I’m stuck in Afghanistan. Bit of a pickle,” he wrote.
In an interview with the Spectator from a UN safe house in Kabul, which he said was “better than my Uni accommodation”, he said that “I was under the impression that the country wouldn’t fall for another month, so I thought it was going to be fine. I’d seen videos on YouTube of people going. I thought maybe the worst case would be food poisoning.”
He also broadcast almost an hour of footage on the video streaming website Twitch, where he admitted earlier in his trip he had ‘shaken hands with the Taliban’ during an encounter, and had found a ‘hidden international resistance’ cell.
We are aware of reports that one of our students is currently in Afghanistan. We are in touch with the student and have offered them our support and continue to monitor the situation closely.
Information about support available for staff and students: https://t.co/trxAGnE89Z
— Loughborough University (@lborouniversity) August 16, 2021
Early on Monday morning, he told Facebook that he was being evacuated from the safe house to “a better place”, alongside an Afghan tour guide, and had been “given body armour” to ensure his security.
The University has told students that they “are aware of reports that one of our students is currently in Afghanistan”, and are in contact with him, “monitoring the situation closely”.
Prior to 2001, the Taliban were running one of the most extreme religious dictatorships in recent times in Afghanistan – a place where extremism could thrive.
Whilst the Taliban are claiming that this time their rule will be different, many commentators are finding it hard to take the militant group at their word.
Despite statements saying they will not take revenge, reports of prisoners being executed spread an atmosphere of panic across the country as the Taliban advanced.
It is yet unknown if a return to Sharia law will arrive for a country that now has higher living standards, women in schools, and music – previously banned by Taliban rule – enjoyed by all.
But regardless, most Afghans deem the takeover a catastrophe, both for their country and themselves, and a return to a form of rule they hoped was resigned to the past.
The UK government is confident of their ability to get all British citizens safely out of Afghanistan, with the Foreign Office aiming to fly out a further 1,500 people over the next 24 to 36 hours.
“If we manage to keep it in the way we’re planning to, we should have capacity for over 1,000 people a day to exit to the United Kingdom,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC.
“Currently, this is not about capacity on planes, it’s about processing speeds, so that’s why I’m trying to fix that.”
However, critics have feared that seats taken by holidaymakers could lead to less seats being available for those fearing for their lives.
Last night, the first flight arrived back in the UK, with embassy staff and British nationals on board.
Last night the first flight of British Nationals and Embassy Staff arrived at RAF Brize Norton as part of Op PITTING.
The UK Armed Forces are supporting the evacuation of British Nationals and those eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Program. pic.twitter.com/IyGNIMEaD0
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) August 16, 2021
Labour has urged the government not to abandon Afghan workers who helped British forces, who fear that the Taliban’s control over the country.
Around 4,000 British citizens are thought to be in Afghanistan, and 600 troops have been sent along with several transport aircraft to get all those eligible out of the country by the end of the month.
However, Mr Wallace accepted to LBC that “some people won’t get back”, and that “it’s sad that the West has done what it’s done”.
Despite calls for calm, videos from those at the scene show large crowds running to the airport, hoping for a seat on waiting planes amid uncertainty as to whether they will be able to escape the regime.
— Jawad Sukhanyar (@JawadSukhanyar) August 16, 2021
US soldiers at the airport, now one of the last places under allied control, fired into the air to disperse those gathered, but reports from the city claim that some died in a stampede while diplomats were being evacuated.
The long war
Over the past month, almost all advances made over the 20-year war in Afghanistan have been lost.
After most US troops left the country in July, under the orders of President Biden, the Afghan National Army has been unable to prevent the Taliban’s advance.
Whilst in some areas the Taliban took strongholds by force, in others the Army withdrew without a shot being fired.
The sheer speed of the advance has shocked security experts and caused a backlash against Biden’s decision to withdraw more rapidly than was previously proposed by Trump.
To his critics, the hasty withdrawal has undone 20 years of hard work, sacrifice, and war.
To his supporters, the speed of withdrawal doesn’t matter – they claim the end result would have been the same.
Update: 17/8/21 at 10am
Routledge was evacuated from the country safely last night, after getting “on a list for Dubai”.
Whilst Miles may be safely out of Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan civilians, interpreters and government workers have not yet been so fortunate.
Whilst some countries such as Canada have guaranteed entry for 20,000 refugees, the UK is still yet to release a figure, with details of a resettlement scheme to be set out “in due course”.
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