The chaotic scenes at Kabul airport last year have come to symbolize the pivotal moment of the violent Taliban takeover in August 2021. But not everyone who scrambled to get onboard a flight succeeded at the time -- even if they qualified.
A former local employee who worked for the German military, the Bundeswehr, in Afghanistan told the official Afghanistan investigation committee in Berlin that the evacuation efforts in August 2021 were not coordinated enough, putting the lives of those trying to flee Afghanistan at peril.
The Afghan national was speaking in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, on Thursday (November 11). He told the investigation committee that he had worked on behalf of the Bundeswehr as a television journalist in various capacities for several years, which allowed him and his family to qualify for emergency evacuations carried out by the German government.
However, the 29-year-old said that after reaching the airport in Kabul, he, his wife and two children were forcibly turned away, news agency dpa reports.
Sent back - at gunpoint
He told the Bundestag committee that on the day of the intended evacuation, he had managed to get into the airport after making prior arrangements with the Bundeswehr. He said he was given various reassurances from German officials, saying that the evacuation efforts were going according to plan.
He recalled that he and his family were able to pass an initial checkpoint set up by US forces, but when they reached the German checkpoint, he was told that his name was not on the departure list.
The Afghan journalist says he then went on to try to prove that he and his family were entitled to be on the evacuation flight. He remembers showing his e-mail exchange and the providing all necessary documents.
This is when he says that a female soldier working for the Bundeswehr shouted at him, telling him to leave the premises, and even threatened to shoot.
A bureaucratic nightmare
In the end, he and his family were able to flee Afghanistan, putting their lives at great risk in due course, he stressed. They were eventually able to leave the country via Pakistan, with the support of the German Embassy in the capital, Islamabad.
According to his own account, the Afghan journalist had initially worked directly for the Bundeswehr for about two years starting in 2015. Thereafter, however, he had to sign a contract with a company that was contracted by the Bundeswehr to continue working in this capacity.
This turned out to be a major problem in the spring of 2021, when the Taliban started gaining ground in Afghanistan, and when the US and Germany announced the upcoming withdrawal of their troops.
Having been refused at gunpoint at the airport in August while attempting to board an evacuation flight, the Afghan journalist said he tried to apply for special dispensation visas made available by the German government to local employees in the weeks following the troop withdrawal.
Once more, he was refused. This time, the explanation was that too much time had passed since he had worked for the Bundeswehr directly, and that his subsequent contract with an intermediary company did not count.
It was not until August this year that he and his family were finally given the opportunity to leave the country — but only with the support of humanitarian organizations such as Mission Lifeline and the Afghanistan sponsorship network (Patenschaftsnetzwerk Afghanistan) who petitioned on his behalf.
Thousands still waiting to leave
After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, thousands of people tried to leave Afghanistan. Local employees working for various international military forces in the country were able -- in most instances -- to apply for special visas to evacuate on military aircraft alongside soldiers or to board special flights in the final days of the Kabul takeover.
Many feared that the Taliban leadership would especially go after these people who had assisted foreign forces, which had been stationed in the country for 20 years.
However, not everyone managed to leave the country. As of June 2022, a total of 12,000 Afghans were still waiting to make their way to Germany.
Some of those hoping to flee abroad even died, according to German government reports.