Six Afghanistan civilians who worked alongside New Zealand soldiers during the Afghan war worry they've been left off the emergency evacuation list and are now fearing Taliban hit squads.
The group, which includes an interpreter, electricians, a carpenter and kitchen hand, are afraid of deadly Taliban reprisals if they aren't urgently rescued.
They were part of a group of 20 Afghans who wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in May this year, as New Zealand ended its 20-year deployment to Afghanistan, begging for help.
Official correspondence which confirms their ties with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and their work with the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in the Hazara-majority province of Bamiyan – where eight Kiwis died – has been viewed by the Herald.
After an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday, hours after Afghanistan's capital city Kabul fell into the hands of the hardline Taliban Islamist group, Ardern said a C-130 military transport aircraft would be sent to extract 37 Afghan nationals who had worked alongside the NZDF.
Government officials have been contacting individuals stuck in Afghanistan, which has slowly fallen to the Taliban after the withdrawals of New Zealand, the US, and other Nato allies in recent weeks and months, and making arrangements to try and get them out.
Final flight details were still being sketched out, the NZDF said today.
But six men who worked at Kiwi Base say they should be included on the list, but have heard nothing.
Despite Taliban leaders saying those locals who worked alongside foreign forces would not be targeted in revenge attacks, and vowing to include women in an "inclusive" government, the ex-NZDF workers are becoming increasingly anxious and say their lives are in danger.
"What is the difference between us and our colleagues who are on the list? It's discriminatory. I am shocked the New Zealand government will not help me," a bewildered and shaken Nowroz Ali told the Herald from Kabul today.
"I have called my friends in Bamiyan ... they tell me the villagers have already started spying on people who have worked for the coalition forces."
Cautiously venturing into his district in Kabul over the past two days, Ali has seen Taliban militants on the street.
They have set up checkpoints across the city of some 4.5 million and armed fighters are patrolling, searching civilians, and going door-to-door, Ali says.
If they stop him, he fears they will kill him.
"It is not safe here. I am afraid, it's terrible. And we're about to miss the evacuation."
He has been unable to sleep for three days.
When questioned about the group's cases today, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) referred inquiries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT).
"We are not able to discuss individual cases, but have received a large number of inquiries about Afghan nationals that we are working through to determine eligibility, as quickly as we can," an MFAT spokeswoman said.
"We encourage those Afghan nationals who supported the New Zealand Defence Force or other New Zealand government agencies during New Zealand's deployment to Afghanistan and their immediate family to check the mfat.govt.nz website or email firstname.lastname@example.org."
Five of the six men were named in correspondence with Ardern on May 3.
The letter, obtained by the Herald, was signed by 20 "forgotten NZ military allies who are left behind in Afghanistan looking for justice to save their lives".
"The successful ending of the New Zealand, US and Nato military has come to an invaluable cost for the civilian workers and they are still paying for it," said the letter, hand-signed with each man's name, former role with NZDF, and a blue ink fingerprint.
Ali worked as a volunteer interpreter at Kiwi Base front gate in 2010.
A letter of reference from a US Army lieutenant colonel confirmed Ali worked for the NZ PRT at Kiwi Base from March to November that year.
They found him to be "an ambitious interpreter ... who is constantly developing his skills".
Although he was a volunteer for the NZDF, he went on to be paid by the Americans as an interpreter at the base. A received a certificate of appreciation for his "outstanding performance of duty as an interpreter" on Kiwi Base in September 2011.
"This young man is truly devoted to developing his future through education, which is an inspiration to this country, whose future depends on its upcoming generations," the letter says.
A retired US Army major took Ali, a "wonderful interpreter", on several dangerous missions in Bamiyan.
He's disgusted and "livid" that neither the US or New Zealand governments appear willing to help him.
"If we don't get him out of there, he's going to die," he told the Herald today.
"I know that right now the Taliban have access to retina scans and all they have to do is look at him and know he's an interpreter and kill him on the spot.
"We should have taken [the interpreters] with us when we left."
Another Afghan seeking a way out worked with NZ PRT for several years as an electrician.
In 2007, he was recognised for his "continued outstanding service" and in 2011, during the Crib 18 rotation, made an honorary member of the NZDF engineer section.
A third Bamiyan man worked at Kiwi Base from December 2003 to April 2004 as an "electrical labourer".
A letter of reference, signed by a NZDF army officer on April 19, 2004, says he was a reliable worker who had "shown good character" and was a "pleasure to work with".
Others worked as a carpenter, kitchen hand, and "water boy".
In May, they begged with Ardern to intervene.
"The local communities see us as traitors of the country and Mujahiden/Taliban has always announced bonus for finding us and killing us brutally," they said in the group letter.
"The enemy hates us more than they do New Zealand forces because they know how important we were in a mission to beat them … When they catch us, they never see if we have worked as a gate assistant, carpenter, cleaner, driver, electrician, mechanic, care taker or as a kitchen hand but, they kill us brutally without asking a single this kind of questions."
The letter ended with a desperate plea.
"Mrs Prime Minister: The New Zealand has always been a land of democracy and justice and it has crossed its borders and continent to ensure it is fulfilled. The US and Nato forces withdrawal has left no chances for us to stay alive. We hope New Zealand government do not turn us away. Please do not turn your back to us..."
Defence Minister Peeni Henare replied on behalf of the New Zealand Government with bad news.
And further tries were rejected, including a July 5 response from Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.
"New Zealand has recognised the critical role that many Afghan citizens played during the international deployment in Afghanistan," says Faafoi in a one-page letter, obtained by the Herald.
In 2012-13, the New Zealand Government offered a resettlement option for Afghan interpreters who worked in Bamiyan, resulting into 44 former employees and 96 immediate family members being resettled in New Zealand.
"New Zealand is not seeking to extend that assistance package," Faafoi told the desperate group last month.
With security quickly deteriorating in Afghanistan last week, Immigration Minister Faafoi and Defence Minister Peeni Henare had "preliminary discussions on what options might be available to deal with requests from Afghan nationals who assisted the New Zealand Defence Force or other Government agencies during our deployment to Afghanistan who felt they and their families were at risk of Taliban retaliation".
"Minister Faafoi sought advice from officials for further discussions that led to Monday's Cabinet decision to provide humanitarian assistance in conjunction with other international operations being mobilised," a spokesman for the minister's office told the Herald today.
National Party leader Judith Collins asked why ministerial discretion wasn't applied when the Taliban were advancing and there were reports of locals in Bamiyan fleeing into the mountains in early July.
"It's one of the things the Immigration Minister can do, is actually let people in, use the discretion, and who would have complained about that?"
Collins said it made no sense to use the 2012 criteria, which were put in place when the area was stable, for recent resettlement applications from Afghan nationals as the Taliban was advancing.
"Bamiyan was quite settled in 2012, with a national police force in place - an entirely different situation. And now it's chaos," Collins said.
- Additional reporting, Derek Cheng.