THE group of 22 Afghan nationals, who worked closely with United States military and security agencies after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on America, were recently holed up in Zambia after they moved out of Zimbabwe following a failed bid to enter South Africa.
The Afghans, who worked with the US security forces as interpreters, informers and spies, had arrived in Harare last year en route South Africa before they were blocked at Beitbridge border post on 16 February 2023.
Investigations by The NewsHawks show the Afghans are seeking asylum in Johannesburg where safe havens for them have been organised by their American handlers.
This is meant to protect them after the US hastily withdrew from Afghanistan in a chaotic way under pressure from the Talibans who had surged back to power on 30 August 2021, marking the end of the 2001-2021 war. In late 2001, the US and its close allies invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime.
The invasion was calculated to dismantle Al-Qaeda’s terrorist infrastructure which had executed the deadly September 11 attacks. The smashing of terror networks, bases and lo – gistical support would deny Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden a safe haven in Afghanistan.
However, after two decades of fighting in America’s longest war the Taliban surged back to power.
As the date of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan approached, US President Joe Biden’s administration officials and top lawmakers were urgently working on resettling a particularly vulnerable group of Afghans, people who worked as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s local spies during the two-decade war there.
The CIA relied on Afghan informants and key assets to secretly gather intelligence on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and it pledged to protect them in return. But now many of those spies, whose work for the US in some cases became publicly known in Afghanistan, faced the possibility of deadly reprisal.
Afghans who worked alongside Americans, including translators and interpreters, are eligible for a special visa that allows them to seek refuge in the US. But the application requires them to provide evidence of the relationship. Due to the clandestine nature of their intelligence work, Afghans who spied for the US often lack the required documentation.
Even interpreters able to prove they worked for the military have faced long processing delays. In the midst of fear and chaos as the Taliban closed in on the capital Kabul, the CIA managed to get most of its Afghan informants and spies out of the country ahead of the US pullout, but some remained. Prior to that, Biden had ordered the full withdrawal of about 3 000 American troops from Afghanistan in April 2021.
A well-placed Zimbabwean security source told The NewsHawks: “The Afghans are now in Zambia after they were denied entry into South Africa from Zimbabwe where they had been for over a year. They are now waiting for South Africa’s Home Affairs department to process their asylum permits after getting a court order in Pretoria in their favour.
“Members of the group had arrived in Zimbabwe on different occasions between 20 and 28 January 2022 through Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. They tried to leave the country to South Africa on 16 February 2023 to seek refugee status with the assistance of three American nationals who have some military background, showing their links to US security forces.
“Before trying to manoeuvre into South Africa, the three Americans had converged with the Afghan group at Iganyana Tented Camp, a luxurious private tented bush camp on an exclusive wildlife concession bordering Hwange National Park, masquerading as tourists.
“They also stayed at Southern Cross Estate in Bulawayo before departing for South Africa aboard a Delta coach (bus) — registration KCF 442 EC — on 16 February. Payment for their tickets was done in Pretoria. However, they were denied entry into South Africa, forcing them to go to Zambia through Zimbabwe.”
Information gathered shows the Afghan group is being funded by an American organisation Flanders Fields (Veterans Supporting Veterans), which rehabilitates and supports war veterans, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The UNHCR is a United Nations agency man – dated to aid and protect refugees, forcibly dis – placed communities, and stateless people, as well as to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. Flanders Fields is an area in Belgium were some of the fiercest World I battles were fought. It is particularly associated with battles that took place in the Ypres Salient, including the Second Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Passchendaele.
For most of the war, the frontline ran continuously from south of Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast, across Flanders Fields into the centre of Northern France before moving eastwards — and it was known as the Western Front.
The name was popularised by a poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae which was inspired by his service during the war in Ypres. Another source added: “The three Americans involved in this have a military background and are war veterans, and part of the Afghan group which worked closely with the US during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2021.
From the nature of their story, most of these Afghanistan citizens have been trained.
“Americans are keen to internationalise South Africa’s refusal to accept the Afghan asylum-seekers when it is signatory to UN Refugee Convention, although a court has ruled that they must be given refugee status.”
The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are central to this. With 149 state parties to either or both, they define the term “refugee” and outline the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of states to protect them. On 15 February 2023, South Africa’s department of Home Affairs received a letter from a firm of attorneys representing the Afghans, demanding that asylum transit visas be issued to them at Beitbridge Border Post.
While Pretoria was preparing a response, the following day — 16 February 2023 — the Afghans, accompanied by the Americans, arrived in Beitbridge and requested asylum transit visas to enter South Africa to apply for asylum.
The immigration officer refused as they were issued with multiple entry tourist visas by Zimbabwe on 20 January 2023. The Afghans’ lawyers rushed to the Pretoria High Court on an urgent basis seeking relief. The court granted them an interim order for the South African government to issue them with asylum transit visas.
However, the court allowed Home Affairs to anticipate the interim order within 24 hours. It refused to confirm the interim order to allow Home Affairs to file its answering papers. The matter was heard on 20 February 2023. Judgment was reserved.
After just over a week, the court issued judgement on 1 March confirming the interim order as final. In reaction, South Africa’s Home Affairs said it would abide by the court judgement and deal with the Afghans’ applications for asylum. South Africa said while it abides by the rule of law, this should not be taken as opening flood – gates for spurious asylum claims.