Aborted escape moves, two days' hiding & Taliban captivity: A Keralite recounts 7 days of Afghan horror

Deedil Rajeevan
Deedil Rajeevan gets a kiss from his mother Shanthini after reaching home in Thalassery on Monday. Photo: Prasanth Pattan

Kannur: Deedil Rajeevan's attempts to get himself out of Afghanistan began a few hours after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the country's capital city, on August 15.

A US military vehicle first drove him to the Indian Embassy in Kabul, but the trip was aborted due to traffic congestion and chaos all around.

Then he went into hiding at an Afghanistan national's house. Two days later, he attempted to enter the airport only to find himself in Taliban captivity.

"The four-hour captivity was a see-saw battle between life and death. Taliban terrorists asked for my passport and office identity card. I showed my Indian passport but concealed my identity card in my shoes. They would have killed me had they found out that I was working for the US forces," Deedil recounted his harrowing experiences on Tuesday, a day after reaching his home at Thalassery in Kerala’s Kannur district.

Journey to Afghanistan
Twenty-nine-year-old Deedil went to Afghanistan in 2012 to work with the US forces.

His designation was food quality controller, where he inspected the raw food items brought from foreign countries before handing them to the military chefs.

He was not directly employed with the military. His employer was a US-based company.

He landed the job through his uncle Biju, who worked as a baker at the camp. Biju was on vacation at home when the Taliban took Kabul's control.

"Life was quite good in Kabul before the advent of the Taliban. People had freedom to wear clothes they liked, listen to music of their choice and study their favourite subjects. Things began to change since Taliban forces began to regroup in 2018," he said.

The deal signed by former US President Donald Trump with the Taliban, said Deedil, had lowered the morale of the freedom-loving people. "Taliban resurgence became a foregone conclusion when US President Joe Biden decided to withdraw troops from the country. But no one expected Kabul's quick fall," he said.

Kabul witnessed chaotic scenes after the Taliban takeover. Photo courtesy: Deedil Rajeevan

A shocker
Deedil began checking escape routes immediately after the Taliban's Kabul takeover. So he decided to enter the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which was a mere 15-minute drive from the military camp. The US forces arranged a bullet-proof vehicle for him. But he got stuck on the chaotic roads for six hours. This forced him to drop the embassy mission and seek refuge at the residence of an Afghan national. "I went into hiding for two days. From there, I contacted Manorama News reporter in New Delhi Saju Mohan. He brought my plight to the notice of Central and State government officials. It eventually paved way for my safe return," he said.

Government intervention
Deedil said an official from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Nidhin Kunnepparambil, contacted him on August 17 and asked him to move into a hotel in Kabul immediately.

"I was hiding at my Afghan friend’s home at that time. When I reached the hotel, I was quite relieved to see a 150-member Indian group. I realised that MEA had asked all of us to stay at the same hotel to make evacuation easy. I felt quite secure there," he said.

Deedil said the MEA had planned to repatriate them all on August 19, but the attempt was aborted because of the traffic snarls and security threat.

Taliban escort
"We were told to get ready to go to the airport at 1 am on August 20. The plan was to airlift us at 4 am," said Deedil.

The group was ferried to the airport in six buses, escorted by gun-wielding Taliban terrorists in two vehicles.

"We were surprised when we saw two vehicles - one in the front and the other in the back - with Taliban terrorists escorting us. They were wielding guns. We didn't know how it happened. The Taliban vehicles disappeared after reaching the airport," Deedil said.

But the surprise soon turned into a nightmare for 150 Indians.

Deedil Rajeevan
A selfie taken by Deedil after boarding the Indian Air Force flight in Kabul on August 23. Photo courtesy: Deedil Rajeevan

Taliban captivity
As the Indians waited for their exit, two Taliban terrorists hijacked the buses and asked the drivers to follow their instructions.

The buses were taken to an abandoned warehouse.

"We were taken to Taliban territory. A shiver went down my spine. I lost all hopes of returning home," Deedil said.

The next four hours were extremely traumatic.

The Taliban terrorists segregated men and women and asked them to sit in separate places.

Then they checked passports and office identity cards. Deedil realised the threat and hid his identity card in his shoes. "If they knew that I was working with the US military, they would have killed me. I concealed it to save my life. Some others flushed their identity cards in the toilet," he said.

Tense moments
After verifying the documents, gun-wielding Taliban terrorists asked the men and women to move into the open ground. "They gave us water. At the same time, they loaded their guns. We thought they would shoot us down soon," Deedil said.

Meanwhile, the terrorists filmed the captives and apparently sent them to their leaders.

A twist in the tale happened a few minutes later with the terrorists asking the captives to go back to their buses.

"We didn't know what happened in those few minutes. I think the senior leaders must have asked their files to release us. With prayers on our lips, we ran to the bus and occupied our seats. It was 3 pm. We had spent four long hours in the Taliban captivity" Deedil said.

All the six buses headed to the hotel where they were staying.

A coordinator arranged by the Indian government told them that they would be repatriated as soon as the US Army, which is controlling the airport, permits the Indian Air Force flight to land.

"I would never forget those four hours I had spent in captivity. It was such an excruciating experience," Deedil said.

Deedil being greeted by mother and family members on his arrival at his Thalassery home. Photo: Prasanth Pattan

Thirty minutes after the Taliban freed 150 Indians, the US military granted landing permission to an Indian Air Force flight.

"The boarding formalities were completed soon and we got into the flight around 11 pm. Words are inadequate to describe the mood inside the flight. Prayers of different religions reverberated as the flight finally took off at 3 am on August 21," Deedil said.

In Delhi, Deedil stayed at the Kerala House before boarding a flight to Kannur via Goa on August 23.

"I never thought that I would come back home. This is my second life. I thank the union and state governments for saving my life," he said.

Deedil hopes to go back to Afghanistan after the end of the current crisis. "I am still on the rolls of the US company. I hope to go back there after the dust settles," he said.

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