‘There is so much fear’

Last Sunday, August 15, 2021, The Taliban seized Jalalabad the fifth-largest city of Afghanistan. The capture by the insurgents of the eastern city without a fight gave them control of one of the main highways into the capital Kabul.

This effectively left Kabul the last major urban area under government control. The following day the white flags of the Taliban were on display in the Afghan capital.

They swept through the country in recent weeks following the withdrawal by US-led forces. Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country ending an administration built up in the 20 years since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001.

For one Cavan Town resident, the news from 6,000 miles away is very close to home: “I am out of Afghanistan since 2005,” he told The Anglo-Celt. He was reluctant to give his name because of a fear ingrained by a regime with a documented history of brutality toward those who oppose it.

Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, was his home prior to leaving: “We left because of the situation. The situation was very bad, the war was unrelenting,” he recalled, “but at the moment it is worse.”

Harking back to the years before his departure, he speaks of a country in turmoil: “When America moved in back in 2001, some cities were okay, but most of the country was at war. Bomb blasts became a normal thing,” he recalls.

“Everyday, when you wake up, in your mind is the thought that you could be killed by someone - worry about bomb blasts, road side bombs, suicide bombers. When you leave your home you think ‘I may not come back’. That is your life, that is what is on your mind.”

The trauma of uprooting family and relocating is a last resort: “We got a lot of help. I have to thank everyone who helped us. So many people made the move possible. I first moved to the UK. After a few years, I visited a friend who was living in Cavan. Then I moved here myself.”

He tells of concerns for his family and friends in Jalalabad: “There is so much fear. They said that yesterday the situation changed so much.”

In a statement on Saturday the Taliban claimed its rapid gains showed it was popularly accepted by the Afghan people and reassured both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe.

This contention is disputed by the Cavan Town resident: “I don’t know how they got to where they are so quickly, but people are not happy with it. There are many people looking for a way out. Nobody really likes The Taliban, they get support from neighbouring countries, that is why they are so strong.”

Concern for his family is the main reason he did not wish to be identified: “People can hear everything that is in the news, this leaves those who say it vulnerable,” he explains.

Returning to Afghanistan in the future is a fervent hope: “That’s something we would like. But I am not sure when it would happen. We miss our home and our family very much.”

This is not the only story linking Cavan to the Southern Asian nation. In September 2008 Justin Cupples, who had family roots in Virginia, Cavan, was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan.

The young man, who served in the first battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, was killed in a an explosion while on foot patrol near Sangin district centre in southern Afghanistan. Mr Cupples lived in Cavan from 2003-2005 before joining the British Army and moving to Yorkshire with his Lithuanian wife Vilma.

Before Mr Cupples joined the British Army, he worked in Pauwels Trafo, now Kyte Powertech, in Cavan Town for two years.

US forces withdraw

On Monday evening, US President JOE Biden defended the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, saying he stood by the policy and that it was time to leave after 20 years of conflict.

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said in a televised address from the White House.

“The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” said Mr Biden.

He also laid the blame at the feet of the Afghan military and the political leaders in the country.