ASADABAD, Afghanistan -- Two Afghan army soldiers held in Taliban captivity were freed with tribal leaders’ help after pledging they would leave military service for good.
The soldiers were captured and held for three weeks after a February 23 insurgent raid overran their remote base in the Ghaziabad district of the country’s eastern Kunar Province.
One of the soldiers, Private Mir Agha, told Radio Free Afghanistan that he was awakened by gunfire outside of the barracks in the early hours of February 23. "I was overpowered before I could get hold of my gun. Soon I realized that most of my colleagues were killed and I was a Taliban prisoner."
He said the Taliban tied his hands behind his back and ordered him to walk with them. "When we reached the Taliban hideout, I was surprised to see four of my colleagues being applauded by [Taliban] fighters. Soon I realized that they had helped the Taliban ambush by letting them into the base while we slept."
Lieutenant Khairuddin, the second soldier held captive, told Radio Free Afghanistan that he had suspected some of his soldiers were spying for the Taliban. Ten days before the attack, he said, "I had sensed that the Taliban were planning a major ambush."
Khairuddin says he reported his suspicions to his brigade’s head of intelligence in Kunar's capital, Asadabad. He claims that the intelligence chief instructed him to send pictures and details of the individuals he suspected were in contact with the Taliban, but otherwise "did not pay much attention to my complaint."
Looking tired and disheveled, Agha described his time with the Taliban as hellish. "All of them called me 'infidel' and constantly threatened to kill me for serving in the army. One day they let me call my father. I told him, 'I can be killed any day. I am sorry if I have failed you.'"
Agha's father, Mohammad Sakhi, was relieved to be reunited with his son, and credited Kunar's tribal elders with helping to secure his release.
Kunar tribal leader Haji Habibullah said that they bargained hard for the prisoners’ release, with the Taliban insisting "that the soldiers promise to abandon the army and look for a civilian job instead."
The attack, which Afghan officials say killed 21 and injured four, is considered to be the worst single blow to the Afghan security forces since 2010.
It has highlighted the Taliban's ability to infiltrate Afghan security forces, a breach that has enabled Taliban sympathizers to kill hundreds of Afghan and international troops over the past few years.
The February 23 ambush prompted President Karzai to cancel a planned visit to Sri Lanka and order investigations.
Written by Abubakar Siddique. Rohullah Anwari reported this story from Kunar, Afghanistan.