A former British soldier who was held prisoner by the Taliban is remaining in the region to evacuate others amid what he calls a ‘humanity-level’ disaster.
Ben Slater arrived in Qatar yesterday after being freed by the militants but now plans to fly straight to his company’s office in Pakistan despite having endured beatings and interrogations.
He described being treated like an ‘MI5, James Bond-style character’ and subjected to ‘Guantanamo-style’ treatment while being detained for five weeks on suspicion of spying.
Ben, who is chairman of Nomad Concepts Group, an international development organisation, had remained in the country after the coalition’s withdrawal in August to help his workers, dependents and others to leave.
He is currently in the capital Doha, where he arrived last night after a high-level UK delegation in Kabul secured his release.
The ex-trooper told usnewsrank.com today that he now plans to fly to Islamabad to continue overseeing the extraction of his remaining staff and others from Kabul amid a ‘humanity-level event’ befalling Afghanistan.
‘It’s been an interesting five weeks,’ he said.
‘The worst part was at the start when they thought I was an MI5, James Bond-style character, which meant I lost all my rights and my dignity.
‘I was held in Torkham for three days and then moved to Jalalabad, which was basically a Guantanamo Bay-type jail used for interrogation and torture.
‘They basically thought I was a spy and they gave me the same or similar treatment to what those people had received from Americans.
‘There was a couple of beatings, there was bags over the head, there was handcuffs. The jail was hot and overcrowded and it was the most bizarre situation; I was in there with Islamic State, Daesh people, criminals, mafia, special forces guys from the previous government and some Pakistani guys.
‘You basically had to be a certain type of character to be thrown in there.’
The company boss had remained behind in the final days of the UK and US airlift from Kabul, at one point helping families across a filthy canal outside the airport and into the arms of waiting British troops on the perimeter.
The former Royal Military Police soldier then travelled to the Torkham border crossing with Pakistan after the final coalition flights departed as he continued assisting people to leave via the overland route, which arose the suspicions of the Taliban and led to him being thrown in prison.
While incarcerated, he was held in jails and guarded by armed militants in rudimentary guest houses at sites in Torkham, Jalalabad and then Kabul.
Ben told usnewsrank.com that he was first held in Torkham for three days before being moved to a grim facility in Jalalabad, where the beatings took place.
‘When I first arrived at Jalalabad I couldn’t discuss anything,’ he said.
‘It was “shut up, you’re a spy” and that’s when the beatings started.
‘When I arrived there was a bit of a slapping outside the office by some seasoned Taliban middle-management dudes and then I got dragged down to the jail part.
‘It was like playground bullies with 10 people around one person, it felt like a long time and all I could do was protect my joints and my head.
‘They knew what they were doing, they were using the balls of their feet and their elbows and it was really painful. A couple of them got a bit excited and started picking up cables and stuff but then it all calmed down.
‘At the end of the five weeks, some of the guards respected me and quite liked me and we are still in touch through WhatsApp. They’ve even sent me a picture of one of the jails.’
Conditions improved once the Taliban discovered the truth about the 37-year-old’s work and he drew on his decade in the military as he regained composure after his initial mistreatment.
After 18 days, he was moved to a basic guest house in the same compound of the Jalalabad jail, where he remained guarded and was questioned every day. He was then taken to another detention and interrogation centre in Kabul which is intended for political prisoners and had been used by the previous government.
The veteran, originally from Kent, was moved once more to another guest house before being released without notice on October 5.
He said: ‘I got my mind in the right place to deal with it and started making friends. It sounds cliché but a lot of my military training did naturally kick in.
‘I got organised, I started looking after my health and eating everything I could and I looked around to become aware of my surroundings. It did help me a great deal.’
Ben told usnewsrank.com he was not made aware of his imminent release and was only told by a guard that, ‘you’re going, your people are here’.
He met the UK team and was immediately flown to Doha on an emergency passport with the British delegation on a Qatari military flight.
Ben expressed his thanks to the Home Office, Foreign Office and consular teams, which included Sir Simon Gass, the Prime Minister’s High Representative for Afghan Transition, and Dr Martin Longden, Chargé d’Affaires of the UK Mission to Afghanistan, who were both on the flight.
He is also grateful to former Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, who took part from London, and to the Qatari officials for helping with his release.
Despite tasting freedom, he plans to fly to Islamabad to oversee the relocation of his remaining team and other countries’ citizens from Kabul.
‘I’ve still got at least 100 of my own staff to get out of Kabul,’ he said.
‘We’ve got at-risk females and other governments and organisations asking us for help as well. It’s a big mess and there are still lots of people to help.’
Ben’s team has so far evacuated 112 people from Afghanistan into neighbouring and developing countries. The Baton military charity is currently raising funds for his company’s ongoing work supporting women and girls in Afghanistan.
‘We are now working desperately hard trying to fundraise as our company’s been brutally damaged,’ Ben said.
‘We’ve lost our biggest region of business virtually overnight, so I’ve got to deal with that later. I’ve got staff all over the world and a load stuck in Kabul still that I need to advocate for visas for and the list goes on.’
Warnings about the humanitarian plight of Afghanistan from the UN have accompanied the West’s rapid withdrawal following two decades of involvement.
‘It’s not even a humanitarian crisis, it’s the next level up,’ Ben said.
‘It leaves you questioning humanity, there are women selling their younger children to older men to feed their family for a week, people are dying of malnutrition, there’s no money, there’s no economy, there’s no jobs and there’s no food.
‘It’s a humanity-level event, that’s the only way to describe it, it’s beyond even the disaster or humanitarian categories.
‘I’ve been doing this work for a long time and this is the worst I have seen.
’Right now, it is very, very scary what is happening there. It’s catastrophic. It seems like a whole country has been erased from planet Earth.’
Ben’s comments were underlined by scenes in Kabul as hundreds of people were beaten back by militants after the Taliban announced it would reopen applications for travel documents.
Crowds of desperate people who missed out on the Western evacuation flocked to a passport office amid reports of worsening poverty and hunger.
The UK team’s work in the region this week has also included meeting Taliban leaders in Doha, the first diplomatic contact since the hardliners took control of the country.
Discussions covered the humanitarian crisis, terrorism, the rights of women and girls and the importance for safe passage for UK and Afghan nationals.
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