Four years after her first journey into a comparatively steady Afghanistan , reporter Hollie McKay discovered herself being escorted north to the Uzbek border — by the Taliban.
The veteran Australian-American journalist, who spent greater than a decade masking overseas affairs for Fox Information and has stints reporting from Iraq beneath her belt, had not too long ago returned to the “graveyard of empires” together with her Australian photographer, Jake Simkin. The 2 have been there to doc the transition between U.S. presence and U.S. absence after 20 years of involvement within the nation.
McKay deliberate to spend three to 4 months there through the last stretch of the U.S. drawdown primarily based within the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest metropolis.
“We simply wished to initially doc that twilight interval of the U.S. because it leaves Afghanistan , after which what occurs after within the aftermath and type of what we predicted to be the battle for the Afghan authorities to remain by itself two ft,” McKay instructed the Washington Examiner. “We had no concept that it will be crumbled earlier than the U.S. had even left.”
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Mazar, as McKay reported , hosted a major presence of Afghan Nationwide and Particular Safety Forces earlier than it fell into Taliban arms on Saturday, Aug. 14 — the day earlier than Kabul did the identical. Very similar to the capital metropolis, Mazar was taken by the Taliban with no important firefight.
“The one gunfire I heard was just about celebratory gunfire,” McKay mentioned.
The times and hours main as much as that second have been uncharacteristic or, on the very least, surprising contemplating the circumstances, in line with McKay.
“I heard no air assist. There was nothing, there was no airplanes, there was no bombing, there was no helicopter within the sky,” she mentioned. “It simply occurred so shortly.”
McKay and Simkin have been out at dinner through the metropolis’s last free moments after they observed it was “ghostly quiet” within the streets and realized issues weren’t proper.
“Simply as we have been hurrying again, I noticed the bikes are available in, and that was the Taliban,” she mentioned. “And so, earlier than we knew it, you realize, we have been fortunate that we have been sheltered within the resort. We have been in a position to lock the bomb-proof of doorways and issues, however we’re wanting down on it, and it was simply swarming with the Taliban.”
“We simply realized that we have been fairly caught,” she added.
McKay spent that afternoon talking with Afghan safety officers who, like high officers within the Biden administration , anticipated a for much longer timeline.
“All of them swore to me black and blue that it was not going to fall, and if it was going to fall, it was going to take a number of weeks,” she mentioned.
Mazar’s destiny, in line with McKay, had quite a bit to do with a negotiated give up, very similar to these reported throughout the nation that helped ship Afghan territory into Taliban management.
“Little did all people know that [Mazar] had already been offered out by one of many commanders who had type of take care of [the Taliban,] I am certain for a superb amount of cash, after which was in a position to flee the nation earlier than anybody knew,” she mentioned.
McKay and Simkin made their approach to the border of Uzbekistan, about 65 miles from Mazar, however not earlier than assembly with Taliban elders to safe permission to go away the nation. The Uzbek Consulate helped safe a Taliban escort to carry them by the group’s varied checkpoints between Mazar and the border.
“The elders have been attempting to spin a little bit of PR to me that they weren’t the identical Taliban anymore, they usually revered the human rights and all this type of stuff,” mentioned McKay, who interviewed Taliban alongside the way in which. “However I believe it was pretty clear, as I used to be probing him, that what they wished was a really stringent model of Sharia, and that undoubtedly meant a girl was relegated to the house and coated in a burka if she ever stepped out.”
McKay mentioned she was not notably scared of interacting with the Taliban, pointing to the varied factors of negotiation between them and the USA as indications the group faces important stakes if it mistreats civilians.
“I would not say that I used to be fearing for my life in any respect. I believe that I might spoken to sufficient individuals and picked up sufficient data that made me really feel assured that the Taliban was not considering harming a girl or a foreigner,” mentioned McKay, persevering with it was her impression the Taliban sought to keep away from turning into an “worldwide pariah” as they’d by attacking foreigners.
“I believe I used to be extra curious than something, curious within the sense that I wished to grasp how they act and the way they behaved,” she mentioned. “If I used to be that fearful, I most likely would not have felt comfy happening that route.”
For now, McKay and Simkin stay within the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. They plan to remain within the area to proceed reporting on the Afghanistan fallout as evacuations of People and others proceed forward of President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
“The Afghan individuals deserve their story to be instructed,” she mentioned. “And I do not assume there ought to be a media blackout.”