Transcript

Leaving Afghanistan

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NEWSREADER:

This morning U.S. and NATO troops begin pulling out of Afghanistan.

NEWSREADER:

With news that all U.S. and NATO troops will soon leave their country, many Afghans are feeling anxious about their future.

NARRATOR:

Journalist Najibullah Quraishi is heading into Afghanistan as the U.S. military is leaving.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

It's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home.

NARRATOR:

Twenty years after an American-led coalition drove the Taliban from power, the group has now regained control of as much as 80% of the country.

NEWSREADER:

There's a chance the Taliban insurgency could topple the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

NEWSREADER:

The Afghan Parliament has warned that the withdrawal could lead to a civil war.

NEWSREADER:

—open a new, more turbulent chapter in this country's bloody history.

NARRATOR:

Fears of a Taliban takeover and civil war are increasing.

With the Taliban making advances almost by the day, Najibullah is going into one of the group’s strongholds, where an extreme faction has their base near the Iranian border. He’s been promised an interview with one of the Taliban’s original leaders and one of its most feared warlords, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI, Correspondent:

Mullah Niazi is tough, frightening and a very dangerous man. I took a risk. Of course, it was a big risk. I had some doubts, if he would do something bad against me.

NARRATOR:

Niazi’s base is over 500 miles west of Kabul, deep in Taliban country, where factions regularly clash with government forces. The white flags of the Taliban mark the end of the road for Najibullah and his team, the last of a dozen checkpoints.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

The people who are in the checkpoint, they were coming and looking to us because probably they have seen journalists for the first time.

NARRATOR:

The only approach to Niazi’s camp is on foot. It’s a 90-minute hike over rough terrain.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

Mullah Niazi sent some troops back from the mountain to escort us, and these people were heavily armed. It was quite scary. You know, once you’re inside, you cannot do anything. You have no way to come back.

NARRATOR:

At the summit, Najibullah and his colleagues are ordered into a holding cell.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

I saw a sign saying, "Welcome to the Taliban Court." At the side of the room I saw a bunch of sticks. They punish some people. When I saw these sticks, I said, "You’re a goner."

As soon as I heard they were calling for the prayer, I immediately—I thought this is the moment to come out of this cell. I wanted to show that I am a proper Muslim and I'm not a spy. I am a journalist.

NARRATOR:

After prayers, everyone gathers on the roof. Najibullah is brought out onto the top of the compound to wait.

TALIBAN FIGHTER 1:

[Speaking Pashto] God willing, this is not a betrayal and there’ll be no trouble.

TALIBAN FIGHTER 2:

[Speaking Pashto] You said your prayers, didn’t you?

NARRATOR:

Then the mullah arrives.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

If you meet Niazi in person, he’s smiling, he’s very friendly. You think he’s the best person. But behind all these smiles, he’s a really, really dangerous man.

NARRATOR:

Niazi invites Najibullah and the team into the main room. He launches into a victory speech for what he sees as the Taliban’s defeat of America.

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] The truth is, the West wanted to conquer Afghanistan but they can’t admit that, because after 20 years of war they have been defeated. They've been brought to their knees.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] What is your message to Joe Biden, the president of the USA?

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] We don’t need America. America should go back to where it came from.

NARRATOR:

Then Niazi says something surprising. With the U.S. leaving, a new enemy is moving in: Iran.

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] In every region they’ve created a political and military structure, supervised by Iranian Security. They've created this network in Afghanistan called Fatemiyoun.

NARRATOR:

The Fatemiyoun Brigade is an Iranian-backed Afghan militia. It’s drawn from Shia Afghan refugees in Iran and also from members of the Hazara Shia minority inside Afghanistan. The Fatemiyoun were deployed in Syria to fight for Bashar-al-Assad. Now, Niazi claims Iran has been sending them back to Afghanistan in anticipation of a civil war.

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] They have people in the government among ministers, right up to vice president level. They have people in the military, too, all under the name Fatemiyoun.

NARRATOR:

Niazi says that almost every night he sends men to the Iranian border, where they ambush Fatemiyoun fighters sent from Tehran.

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] We kill so many that they send convoys to collect the bodies. I can show you pictures.

NARRATOR:

He shows gruesome pictures on his phone of what he claims are dead Fatemiyoun fighters.

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] Just last night, we hit 150 from a troop of about 700. They filled 10 Mazda vehicles with their corpses.

NARRATOR:

There's no way to confirm the pictures he was showing, but to further demonstrate his faction’s power, Mullah Niazi wanted Najibullah and his team to see his bomb makers at work.

BOMB MAKER:

[Speaking Dari] We make two or three types of explosives for land mines.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] How many mines can you produce in 24 hours?

BOMB MAKER:

[Speaking Dari] If there is a need for 100, we make 100. Another day, we only need 50. We just make as many as required.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Who gives you the order?

BOMB MAKER:

[Speaking Dari] The Mullah.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Can you tell me how many you’ve made in the last month?

BOMB MAKER:

[Speaking Dari] Last month we made over 4,000.

NARRATOR:

Outside on the mountaintop, Mullah Niazi issues a chilling threat, aimed at Iran and the Hazara.

MULLAH ABDUL MANAN NIAZI:

[Speaking Dari] Inside Afghanistan, all the Hazaras are Fatemiyoun. I will kill Fatemiyoun and all others who are key players in the civil war in Afghanistan. I will kill thousands of Hazaras. Let it be a lesson in their history and to future generations.

NARRATOR:

To show he means what he says, he invites Najibullah to film his men on a mission. They’re setting an ambush for the Fatemiyoun fighters coming over the border from Iran.

TALIBAN DRIVER:

[Speaking Dari] In the name of God the merciful.

We're going to the area where the enemy are expected tonight. Our friends are ahead of us with the mines.

TALIBAN FIGHTER:

[Speaking Dari] God forbid, I hope nothing goes wrong.

TALIBAN DRIVER:

[Speaking Dari] We only have a problem with people who serve foreign powers like Pakistan and Iran. They are the enemies of our land, enemies of Afghanistan. We are their enemy. We don’t let those people live. We kill them.

NARRATOR:

The men plant IEDs along the roadside.

TALIBAN FIGHTER:

[Speaking Dari] We need to hide the wires under the soil so the enemy won’t see them. One here, one there.

TALIBAN DRIVER:

[Speaking Dari] They’re antipersonnel mines, and my friend is planting them. We planted 60 mines, and tonight, when the enemy comes, we'll hit them.

NARRATOR:

As night falls, they take Najibullah out of the area, before the long trip back to Kabul.

TALIBAN DRIVER:

[Speaking Dari] Fatemiyoun shouldn't think of Afghanistan as Syria and imagine they can rule here.

Never, as long as we live. They are arrogant fools if they think they can come to Afghanistan.

NARRATOR:

In Najibullah’s 20 years covering the war here, Iran’s influence has always been a complex factor. It has long viewed Afghanistan as a safe haven for Sunni extremists, but it also cultivated ties with the Taliban to extend its influence in the country. Mullah Niazi’s claims signal a dangerous turn.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

When Niazi was talking about Iran, I was doubting. This was spinning in my mind all the time while I was on the way to Kabul. Then I couldn’t sleep for days, for nights, and I have tried to find some other sources to support what Niazi says.

NARRATOR:

Through his contacts, he meets a man who says he recruited Afghan Shias, most of them Hazara, to fight with the Fatemiyoun in Syria.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Hello, Commander, I am Najibullah Quraishi.

RECRUITER [on phone]:

[Speaking Dari] Hello, dear brother, are you well?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Yes, thanks. Where are you, sir?

RECRUITER [on phone]:

[Speaking Dari] God willing, I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.

NARRATOR:

He agreed to talk if we concealed his identity and disguised his voice.

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] One night, I went to the mosque. The boys said Iran was recruiting fighters to send to Syria. I asked where they were recruiting. Eventually I found their main office in Kabul.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Who was bankrolling this office?

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] Everything was done from Iran. There were three or four people in charge. One day, an Iranian official arrived. I think he was in charge of all the others.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Iranians were there?

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] Yes, the Iranians themselves had come.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Who were they? Were they part of Sepah?

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] They were from Iran's Revolutionary Guard. I believe the Fatemiyoun are already active in Afghanistan.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] If they are active in Afghanistan, how many people might they have now?

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] Maybe more than 10,000 men.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Fatemiyoun?

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] Fatemiyoun.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] And who supports this Fatemiyoun group?

RECRUITER:

[Speaking Dari] Fatemiyoun is supported directly by Iran.

NARRATOR:

Another Fatemiyoun source, a veteran of the war in Syria, tells Najibullah that Iranian officers ordered them to prepare for fighting in Afghanistan. Like the recruiter, we’re concealing his identity.

FATEMIYOUN VETERAN:

[Speaking Dari] When the Iranian colonels came, they said, "God willing, the Afghan peace process will succeed and the war will end. But if they fail to reach a deal we will send Fatemiyoun into Afghanistan through Herat and Nimruz provinces and drive all the way to the Badakhshan border area with China."

They intend to build a Hezbollah in Afghanistan among Afghans themselves, creating Hezbollah of Afghanistan.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] So if peace isn’t established, they will mobilize Fatemiyoun and they may call on you as well?

FATEMIYOUN VETERAN:

[Speaking Dari] Right now, I know that 5,000 men have already been placed inside Afghanistan, in every military division. Even inside the government there are Fatemiyoun. Five thousand are inside. Three thousand are in the police. Another thousand like me are in regular jobs.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] So, they’ve even infiltrated the government?

FATEMIYOUN VETERAN:

[Speaking Dari] They have their roots inside the government, yes.

NARRATOR:

It's hard to verify the men's claims about the number of Fatemiyoun in Afghanistan, but it has been estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 fought in Syria, and several thousand returned home.

The Iranian foreign minister was asked about their role in Afghanistan in a television interview. He said that while they had supported Afghan fighters in Syria, he denied they are active in Afghanistan now.

TV INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Farsi] Where are these forces?

JAVAD ZARIF, Iran’s Foreign Minister:

[Speaking Farsi] Most of them have returned to normal life. As the war in Syria is now over, they have rejoined normal working life.

NARRATOR:

But the foreign minister said that it was possible that they could be deployed in Afghanistan if needed.

TV INTERVIEWER:

[Speaking Farsi] Do you back the idea of Fatemiyoun forces being redeployed against ISIS inside Afghanistan?

JAVAD ZARIF:

[Speaking Farsi] That's a decision for the Afghan government. If so, they must fight in Afghanistan under the leadership of the Afghan government.

NARRATOR:

No one in the Afghan government would talk to Najibullah about the militia or the role of Iran in the country.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

Either they don't want to talk about this issue, or either they don't know anything about this.

NARRATOR:

Whatever the extent of Iran’s involvement here, one group is increasingly in the line of fire: the Hazara.

Najibullah heads to central Afghanistan, where most of the Shia minority group live. They’ve long been the target of Taliban persecution and attacks. Now their association with Iran and Fatemiyoun makes them a top target for Taliban warlords like Mullah Niazi.

At a Hazara cemetery, Najibullah meets a woman who says the Taliban has been launching deadly attacks on their community. Her grandson was killed in the fighting.

HAMIDA:

[Speaking Dari] His name was Ali Akbar and he was martyred in Dai Mir Daad.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] Why did he go to Dai Mir Daad?

HAMIDA:

[Speaking Dari] He was in a battle. He was defending against the Taliban and they killed him.

NARRATOR:

Nooria’s husband was killed by the Taliban just weeks earlier, leaving five children behind.

NOORIA:

[Speaking Dari] We have lost the head of the family. God has brought such a day on these children. The oldest is 10 years old. The next one is 8 years old. After that, the next one is 6.

HAMIDA:

[Speaking Dari] We are poor and have nowhere to go. The Taliban are after us and the government does not support us.

NARRATOR:

Like other ethnic groups, the Hazaras are forming militias, hoping to protect their communities from the advancing Taliban. A local reporter got a brief interview with a senior commander, Abdul Ghani Alipur, who is currently in hiding.

ABDUL GHANI ALIPUR:

[Speaking Dari] The international community doesn’t hear us. The Afghan government cannot handle its own issues. Are we supposed to just wait for them to solve our problems? The government has failed in its duty to protect the people. We have a right to protect ourselves.

NARRATOR:

Alipur claims to have thousands of fighters at his command.

CROWD [chanting]:

Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!

NARRATOR:

The militarization of the Hazara has incited not just the Taliban; it has brought the Hazara into conflict with the Afghan Army.

In January 2021, Hazara demonstrators gathered in the town of Behsud. Government troops ended up opening fire on the crowd. Homes were burned, buildings destroyed and 11 Hazaras were killed.

Najibullah attended a funeral for some of the victims of the attack.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] The deceased, your brother, was he armed?

MOURNER 1:

[Speaking Dari] No, no. He was like this, the way I am. We went like this. Are we armed now?

This is his oldest child. He has nothing.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

[Speaking Dari] What will the people do if this situation continues?

MOURNER 2:

[Speaking Dari] People will defend themselves. Too much has happened. People will defend themselves to their last drop of blood.

NARRATOR:

Seven weeks after the attack in Behsud, the Hazara commander, Alipur, announced his forces had taken revenge. Video captured an Afghan military helicopter being shot down by what was later identified as an Iranian-made guided missile similar to this one used in Syria.

Alipur later denied his Hazara militia was involved, but an Afghan parliamentary commission confirmed his responsibility. The government has vowed to punish those responsible for the attack, which left nine people dead.

Back in Kabul, Najibullah meets with the spiritual leader of the Hazara, Mohammed Mohaqiq. He is also a member of the Afghan government, and he says he is fearful of the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal.

MOHAMMED MOHAQIQ:

[Speaking Dari] Afghanistan is on the brink of a very dangerous civil war. I am in favor of a responsible NATO withdrawal, but leaving a situation where everyone is fighting each other, that’s not right. They should only leave when peace and security in Afghanistan are assured.

NEWSREADER:

Today President Biden reaffirmed that U.S. troops are leaving Afghanistan fast.

NARRATOR:

American forces are set to be out of Afghanistan by the end of August.

JOE BIDEN:

Staying would have meant U.S. troops taking casualties—American men and women, back in the middle of a civil war.

NARRATOR:

The country now faces a future full of chaos and continued war.

REPORTER:

Only Afghan forces remain, a force already facing dire circumstances as the Taliban sweeps through the country.

NEWSREADER:

The Taliban are gaining ground. The militants say they've taken more than 10 districts over the past—

NEWSREADER:

America's longest war may soon be coming to an end here, but Afghanistan's war is not over.

NARRATOR:

Just over two weeks after Najibullah’s interview with Mullah Niazi, the Taliban warlord was killed by unknown assassins.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

It’s more crazy than the past. It’s worse than what I have seen in my life.

NARRATOR:

Niazi's eldest son was appointed the new leader and immediately swore vengeance.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI:

I grew up in the war. I've seen everything with my own eyes, but this time is more, more dangerous than the past, and I can see a civil war in Afghanistan again.

54m
4009_Taliban Takeover
Taliban Takeover
The Taliban take over Afghanistan, and the threat of ISIS and Al Qaeda intensifies.
October 12, 2021