Sunday, December 5

17 police officers facing an impossible mission | Spain

In the early hours of August 15, the 17 agents of the National Police who made up the security corps of the Spanish Embassy in Kabul began to perceive strange things. “Our Afghan collaborators did not speak the same”, “they were never going to tell us that something was wrong or show fear, but they whispered”, “the behavior of the perimeter security team was different” … The chief of the device decided to take out “two armored vehicles to the street and six men ”to see what was happening.

They soon realized that the Afghan army checkpoints that protected the so-called Green Zone, the perimeter in which the embassies of the different countries are located, had been abandoned: “Where there were usually 10 soldiers, there was one left”, ” the building of the Afghan Intelligence Agency was empty ”, they already say in the base of the GEO (Special Operations Group of the National Police) in Guadalajara, turned into a sort of national heroes after contributing to the rescue and evacuation of 2,200 people from Kabul . Most of the evacuees were collaborators of the Spanish force deployed in the Central Asian country for 20 years, when the US army overthrew the Taliban, took control of the country and tried to promote a democratic state. However, the Americans had already announced their withdrawal and had been leaving Afghanistan for months.

The 17 agents – 10 from the GEO and seven from the Police Intervention Units (IPU, riot control) – had closely followed the rapid advance of the Taliban across the country. They performed 75-day (GEO) and 120-day (IPU) services. They had made the last relay on August 5, “but no one thought that the Taliban would reach the capital so quickly,” recall these policemen, already veterans and who have been forced to repel more than one attack on hostile land. But by the time the Islamic fundamentalists took over Kabul on August 15, the president, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, had already fled the country and at the NATO base, the last refuge, there were barely 2,000 US soldiers left and several hundred Turkish military personnel left. They were in charge of security.

“It was already a base in full dismantling,” they recall from the site that years before had been a meeting point for many of the members of the security forces from various countries. They did not think either, at first, about how crucial those contacts would be and knowing the ins and outs of this multinational air base in a state of semi-abandonment. With those friends and colleagues, “Italians, English, Germans …”, they would make up “a great brotherhood”, “a multinational force”, key in the days to come to protect themselves, survive and rescue thousands of people.

Five of the policemen who participated in the evacuation of Kabul, at their base in Guadalajara.
Five of the policemen who participated in the evacuation of Kabul, at their base in Guadalajara.Nacho Izquierdo

“There were those who had contacts with the Turkish agents, who were the ones who distributed everything: spaces, barracks, bunk beds, food rations (for combat), water…; there were those who had cars, those who had gasoline, those who had Afghan phone cards that worked better at certain times, those who knew someone who controlled any of the access gates to the airport … ”. In a few hours, through contacts “and a lot of ingenuity”, the 17 agents managed to weave a logistical network to coordinate a massive evacuation of people. “The same thing we made a bridge to a vehicle to start it that we opened an entrance way where we knew there was a sewer”, they say. Up to 300 people accessed the base through this makeshift channel, “until the mass crowded there and it became another unsafe place,” they say.

A message sent from Kabul to the GEO base in Guadalajara triggered this evacuation operation that, unexpectedly, lasted 10 days. Endless days in which 17 men between 37 and 46 years old assumed – while the reinforcements arrived (three more policemen and 110 soldiers) – not only their obligation to safeguard the lives of those responsible for the diplomatic legation and of the Spaniards linked to it But the impossible mission of rescuing all those Afghan collaborators threatened by the new Taliban government after having collaborated with international forces. All this in the Kafkaesque context of a country in stampede, where crowds gathered around that military base that shared take-off and landing strips with Hamid Karzai airport in the Afghan capital.

“The embassy must be evacuated urgently.” That was the first measure. From the Guadalajara base, the guideline was to contact the US military before 5:30 p.m. (local time) that same afternoon on August 15 to locate a point from which to get on a helicopter that would take them to the air base of NATO. “All of us who were there, 21, left, including a couple who were at the embassy at the time carrying out visa procedures,” they recall. Before, they destroyed all the sensitive material, secured what was necessary and took the flag, the same one that would later be used to be identified by the evacuees among the desperate mass of people trying to flee.

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