Sporadic gunshots and explosions have become a part of the daily lives of the Afghan people and residents of Kabul. But yesterday, Aug. 16, less than a month before the supposed turnover of power to the Taliban, was the deadliest for Filipino security specialist Mark Suela.
Suela, 37, a native of Pagsanjan, Samar, has been working as a security K9 handler for British contractor Hart International Solutions for 11 months now.
“Kahapon talaga ang malala, di tumitigil ang putukan. Kaya pala ang tagal naming hindi makalabas sa accommodation. Wala na palang security, nagsurrender na sa mga Taliban,” Suela said in a phone interview with PhilSTAR L!fe.
Their British employer has ordered a mandatory evacuation of all their expatriate workers following the swift takeover of the Taliban on the Afghans. He was staying at their accommodation located near the Kabul International Airport when the Taliban forced their way into the gate of their compound.
Mark said they were 17 Filipinos working for Hart, including a woman who is the assistant human resource manager. But he was only with six other Filipinos when they left the compound.
Alam mo yung may thrill. Excited ka, natatakot. Imagine mo, may mga dala-dala kaming mabibigat na bagahe tapos tumatakbo—parang kahawig ng SAF training na habang naglalakad ka pinuputukan ka.
Suela recalled that it took almost two hours before they were finally allowed to leave the compound. And during those tense moments of waiting, Taliban fighters aimed their long firearms at them.
“Tinutukan kami ng baril habang naglalakad. Di ko alam kung nanindak ba o joke,” Suela said.
A number of the armed Taliban forces they encountered also spoke English, and generally “okay naman kausap.” After being body-searched and their passports and papers cleared, they were allowed to proceed to the second drop-off point.
Around 100 of them—Filipinos, other expats and local workers—walked for three hours on the road in Kabul, with non-stop gunshots and people running for their lives around them.
“Alam mo yung may thrill. Excited ka, natatakot. Imagine mo, may mga dala-dala kaming mabibigat na bagahe tapos tumatakbo—parang kahawig ng SAF training na habang naglalakad ka pinuputukan ka,” Suela, who had a brief Army training as a reservist, said.
Nightfall came and when extreme exhaustion finally caught up on them, they stopped in the middle of the road and hit the sack.
“Grabe ang pagod, gutom, uhaw… Nabuhay lang kami sa chocolates na dala ng kasama namin… Yung mga chocolates na tinapon na lang sa hotel,” he quipped.
Around midnight, they were able to reach their third drop where Land Cruiser SUVs were waiting to bring them by batches to Kabul International Airport.
As of this writing, Suela and six of his colleagues are already inside the British forces military base waiting for the military plane that will fly them to Dubai, UAE. From Dubai, a commercial flight will take them back to Manila.
I’m all right, maybe it may take about three months before I can get over this trauma. But I will be all right.
Seven other workers of Hart who are working under the United Nations could not be evacuated as their accommodations were cornered in the clashes between the Taliban and UN security forces.
Then there are also three Filipinos who are working at Baron Hotel where he was recently assigned, and could not secure flight bookings with any of the military flights.
Leaving his K9 behind
Despite the danger of being a resident of Kabul, Suela has grown to love the Afghans, whom he said are “fun to be with.”
“They (Afghans) love to tell stories, they always tell jokes,” he quipped.
But what he would probably miss is Tiny, his K9 dog. He wasn’t able to properly bid goodbye to him, as doing so would make his dog feel the dread and fear he was feeling when they were leaving. In fact, the dog of one of his K9 handler colleagues also ran to them towards the bus.
Suela said he has been to other dangerous assignments overseas like in South Sudan, but this one is the “most unforgettable of all.”
“I’m all right, maybe it may take about three months before I can get over this trauma. But I will be all right,” he said.
Video below, Mark Suela trains Tiny.
Banner photo shows Taliban fighters in Kabul, Aug. 17, after Taliban seized control of the capital following the collapse of the Afghan government. Photo by Hoshang Hashimi/AFP