During the 15-30 August evacuation from Kabul, over three dozen countries set up air bridges to extricate their citizens, soldiers, diplomatic staff and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, most of whom had worked with the US-led coalition during its 19+ year occupation of the country.
Over a hundred thousand people now have stories to tell about how they were able to get out of Afghanistan with a bit of luck and some help from Western pilots. Ziya, a 44-year-old engineer, is one of those people.
The Afghan, wanted by the Taliban, was able to escape the country aboard an Italian military flight thanks to the fact that his brother-in-law worked as a driver for the Italian consulate in Afghanistan’s Herat province. Ziya was taken to Avezzano, a small city about 100 km east of Rome, and has shared his story with Sputnik Italy.
“I am a mining engineer by profession. I worked for 16 years at the Ministry of Natural Resources as a senior geologist in the area of engineering surveys and cartography. Although I did not cooperate with foreigners, I was forced to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban forced me to do so,” Ziya explained.
The man says militants had had repeatedly asked to speak to him after their takeover, under various pretexts, because he once served as the head of a provincial council, and as the chief of the local association of geologists.
“One evening, my relative and I rented a car for 2,000 afghani [about $23 US] and headed for the airport. Along the way there were many Taliban. There were a lot of people there. In our group there were about 70 individuals, including children. Some women with children fainted. I spent three days at the airport. On the third night were evacuated aboard American planes to Pakistan, and then to Kuwait. After that we were transferred to an Italian plane and flown to Rome,” the man recalled.
Ziya says that there were “a lot of difficulties” at the airport. “It was very cold and the toilet was very dirty. I caught a cold there and now I am undergoing treatment,” he said.
Upon arriving in the European nation, Ziya and his fellow Afghans were given Covid tests, had their fingerprints taken and were registered with the police. They were then transferred to an International Red Cross camp in Avezzano. Ziya spent three days at the camp, and has since been moved to a hotel, where he is quarantined.
The Italians are trying very hard to help us. We were given clothes and essential supplies,” the man stressed.
Ziya has a big family still left in Afghanistan – including his wife, four sons, two daughters, five brothers, four sisters and their families. “They are all in danger. I will try to get them out of Afghanistan with the help of the Italian government,” the man vowed.
Along with his story, Ziya shared with Sputnik some of the amateur photos he managed to snap with his phone during the evacuation and after his arrival in Italy.
Italy codenamed its Afghanistan evacuation mission Operation Aquila Omnia (‘Eagle Totality’). The country completed its evacuations on 27 August, three days before the last US aircraft left the country. Rome deployed 4 Italian Air Force C-130 J cargo planes to fly evacuees to Kuwait. From there, 3 KC-167A tankers awaited to take them to Italy. 224 troops and 31 vehicles were deployed to assist in the operation.
Rome vowed that its evacuations would ensure that all Afghans who collaborated with Italian forces during the war would be airlifted to safety. In total, Italian authorities have reported that 5,011 people were evacuated from Afghanistan during the military operation, among them 4,890 Afghan nationals.
Italy was one of the first nations to join the US in its invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, and suffered 53 deaths and 723 injuries over 19+ years. About 50,000 Italian troops served in Afghanistan during this period. Italy completed the pullout of its forces in late June 2021 together with Germany – a month and a half before the Afghan government’s dramatic disintegration in the face of a Taliban assault on Kabul.