Former US soldier walks into the Taliban’s campaign headquarters during a secret attack and retrieves four men who have been kidnapped
The former US soldier Nicholas Exley has gone to Afghanistan to rescue Christians who have been kidnapped by the Taliban.
Exley set out in March to visit the country, his first visit in two decades, and his first trip there since 9/11. At the last minute, Exley decided to go back in the middle of the Taliban’s Easter holiday and his attempt to rescues four Christian workers they believed had been kidnapped.
“I didn’t want to shoot those people, that’s why I came back,” Exley told a reporter for Metro. “That’s why I’m walking in.”
After a protracted journey through the mountains of Helmand province, the militants still refused to release the captives, despite reassurances from the US government that they would be freed.
The Australians were abducted from the village of Qulgharkhel when ex-CIA and special forces agents informed the men they would be released and escorted through Helmand to their next destination.
According to a joint statement by the US government and the Australian government, the men were then “arrested at Qulgharkhel while attempting to leave the site and were detained by local Taliban.”
Exley returned to a place where his efforts have been recognised: he was escorted back to Qulgharkhel, turned himself in and prepared to continue his mission.
The Australian men had been offering pastoral care to hundreds of families across the war-torn province since before the start of the conflict, in 2001. On Exley’s visit, which in April was all concealed from the Taliban, two of the men were turned over to Australian government officials, although the other two were still being held.
Exley tweeted that he was the only person allowed into the Taliban-controlled area and says he used his experience as a paratrooper to stop his trip.
Nicholas Exley (@Phil_exley) My mission has been continued, all thank you for your constant support. Please remember that none of this can be achieved without prayer & sacrifice from those closest to us. Thank you to all in Afghan who have helped me in my mission. Thank you to the Australian Military & the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs who have enabled me to continue. pic.twitter.com/pjmmy0qN2q
In a tweet on Friday, Exley urged followers to support the Australian men.
“Had been assured by senior administration officials in US that release was imminent,” he wrote. “Given the time and physical distance that I traveled to the location and the FBI they were never actually released. Sorry for mis-communicating,” he tweeted.
Duj Eyrick, chair of aid charity, the International Council of Christian Support (ICCS), said at the time of their release that there was no doubt what the kidnappers were looking for.
“As a Muslim group who is targeting their captive because they want to see forced conversion to Islam, we know the real motive of this kidnaping,” Eyrick said.
Earlier this year, Eyrick wrote a letter to the Taliban in which he urged them to release the Christian workers.
Speaking to the Guardian, Eyrick, who wrote the letter after escaping the Taliban in February this year, said the only hope was if a miracle happened.
“You all would fall on your knees and start praying if you knew something like this was happening,” Eyrick said.
“If you couldn’t know about it beforehand, there is only one hope: if all this is a miracle, God willing.”
Eyrick said he had been told that the Taliban had vowed to release the four men before America’s Fourth of July. He hopes the US military will use the men’s detention as a turning point for ending fighting in Afghanistan.
“Every time the Pentagon announces that they are increasing the size of their army and sending more troops, it’s just like sending a balloon with a dolla litre of fuel in the balloon and it explodes and burns. Nobody ever says, ‘my goodness it makes me feel better, I wish that it was done a little differently and it would have been done a little differently’.”
“I just think that anyone who thinks that there’s a military solution to this is making a big mistake.”