A former British soldier has been arrested by the Taliban while attempting to evacuate 400 Afghans.
Ben Slater, 37, was thrown in prison on Thursday morning and questioned regarding members of his 50 staff, most of whom are single women and had been staying in hotel rooms near a border checkpoint.
The former member of the Royal Military Police runs a chain of NGOs in Afghanistan, and had been attempting to evacuate his staff over a land border after failing to secure spots for them and their families on the British airlift from Kabul.
However, his mission failed after a coach carrying the staff was turned away at a land border. It is not clear which country the coach was attempting to cross into.
Slater was released later on Thursday and told he could cross the border with one assistant, but that the rest of his staff had to remain in Afghanistan, The Telegraph reported.
The incident comes amid concerns that the Taliban may disregard a pledge to allow people to leave the country.
On Sunday, the Taliban assured an 100-nation group that it would continue to allow foreign nationals and Afghans with foreign travel documents to leave.
Ben Slater (pictured) was thrown in prison on Thursday morning and questioned regarding members of his 50 staff, most of whom are single women and had been staying in hotel rooms near a border checkpoint
‘We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country,’ the group, which includes the United States, the United Kingdom and France, said in a statement.
‘We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan,’ added the statement, which was also signed by the European Union and NATO.
The group said it would continue issuing travel documents to ‘designated Afghans,’ adding that ‘we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries.’
Russia and China were not among the signatories of the document.
However, the international community remains concerned about the sincerity of the pledge on the part of the Taliban, as many of those attempting to flee are doing so out of fear of retribution from the militants.
Prior to the end of the U.S. airlift and the subsequent closure of Kabul airport, there were reports that the Taliban were stopping people from travelling to the airport area, effectively preventing them from escaping.
Slater told The Telegraph that he will now try to secure visas for his staff from the UK or another Western country.
Slater once again called on the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to help get them out of Afghanistan.
The attempt came amid concerns that leaving Afghanistan by land will be near impossible due to closed borders, abandoned foreign embassies and Taliban checkpoints
‘The final blow to the op is that the UK are only granting myself and one of my executive assistants over the border today, and they haven’t even suggested they are going to issue the visas for some or the rest of my group,’ he told The Telegraph.
‘It’s a complete disaster really. It’s disgusting. It’s beyond horrible.’
The FCDO has advised British citizens still in Afghanistan to make their way back to the UK via a third country.
However, Kabul airport is not operational following the US withdrawal on Monday and the UK Government did not make arrangements with the countries sharing a land border with Afghanistan to facilitate escape routes prior to the fall of Kabul on August 15.
Getting the Kabul airport back up and running is of key importance, and on Thursday Qatar confirmed it was working with the Taliban to reopen the airport ‘as soon as possible’.
‘We are working very hard [and] we remain hopeful that we will be able to operate it as soon as possible’
‘Hopefully in the next few days we will hear some good news,’ Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Thursday.
‘It’s very important… that the Taliban demonstrate their commitment to provide safe passage and freedom of movement for the people of Afghanistan,’ he told a news joint conference with his British counterpart Dominic Raab in Doha.
Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar is working with the Taliban ‘to identify what are the gaps and the risks of having the airport back up and running.’
Kabul’s international airport has been closed to normal traffic since August 16, the day after the Taliban took control of Kabul. Military flights and evacuations continued until August 31, when U.S. forces quit the country and left the runway without air traffic controllers. Pictured: Taliban walk in front of a military airplane at Kabul’s airport the day after the U.S. withdrawal
Sheikh Mohammed’s comments came after a Qatari technical team flew into Kabul on Wednesday to discuss reopening the airport, the first plane (pictured) to land there since the evacuations
Sheikh Mohammed’s comments came after a Qatari technical team flew into Kabul on Wednesday to discuss reopening the airport, the first plane to land there since the evacuations.
At Thursday’s news conference, Sheikh Mohammed also urged the Taliban to live up to its promise to allow Afghans and foreigners to leave the country freely once the airport reopens.
The future of the airport is key not only to potentially enabling people to leave the country, but also in allowing aid to be brought in.
Before attempting to leave Afghansitan, Slater shared his plans with the FCDO and the Ministry of Defence in the hope he would receive assistance as soon as possible.
The attempt came amid concerns that leaving Afghanistan by land will be near impossible due to closed borders, abandoned foreign embassies and Taliban checkpoints.
According to the Telegraph, Mr Slater had already helped dozens of Afghans flee the country but was unable to secure help for his staff, who he says are at risk of retribution from the Taliban.
Prior to attempting the land escape, Slater described himself as being ‘massively let down’ by the UK Government.
He told The Telegraph: ‘I was given one hour’s notice to send in my people’s names, the vehicles and stuff like that.
‘And that seemed a little bit like that was set up for me to miss the deadline. But we did it, and then it went sort of quiet, and then there was a little bit of ‘oh, you can’t come because you can’t get through the Taliban checkpoint’.’
The former member of the Royal Military Police (pictured) runs a chain of NGOs in Afghanistan, and had been attempting to evacuate his staff over a land border after failing to secure spots for them and their families on the British airlift from Kabul
Slater eventually ‘lost his marbles’ after he was apparently transferred to an automated call centre and was put ‘back at zero’.
He says he then launched his own operation to save the 400 Afghan nationals including the 50 staff and himself.
Although the Taliban has made assurances that they will allow those fleeing their rule to leave the country unharmed, Slater is concerned that this will not turn out to be the case.
The Telegraph reported an FCDO spokesperson as saying: ‘More than 15,000 people including British nationals, our Afghan staff and others at risk have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the UK since 15 August in one of the biggest operations of its kind in history,’
‘We will continue to do all we can to deliver on our obligation to get British nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country while the security situation allows.’