EXCLUSIVE

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

An Afghan interpreter who worked for the Australian army in Afghanistan has been killed in a suspected Taliban revenge attack while he waited for promised resettlement in Australia.

The killing has heightened fears for the safety of about 600 interpreters who remain in Afghanistan despite an Australian government promise they would not "be left behind" when the Diggers withdraw.

The withdrawal is due to be completed in days, marking the end of Australia's role in the conflict that has resulted in the deaths of 40 Diggers, left more than 200 with serious injuries and cost over $7 billion, alongside significant civilian casualties.

The withdrawal has also raised concerns for the safety of civilians who have assisted or worked alongside Australian interests in Kamp Holland, the Diggers' main operations base in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan.

Two months ago, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison promised that interpreters and their families would "not be left behind".

The statement continued a long-standing government policy of offering assistance to allies in foreign conflicts. In 2008, almost 600 Iraqis who had worked for Defence and Foreign Affairs were given visas to resettle in Australia.

But this week some of the interpreters said they had been told that they faced months of waiting for their families and themselves to be vetted for visas despite the imminent withdrawal.

They also confirmed that one interpreter had returned to his home town in another province and been shot dead in what is suspected to be a Taliban revenge attack.

Fairfax Media is aware of the man's name and the location of the killing but is not publishing the details to protect his family.

One interpreter who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues were now mostly in hiding trying to keep a low profile in the hope they will survive until they get visas.

"It is very dangerous at the moment. I try not to go out and I stay inside with my family. I'm very worried but I know the Australian embassy is trying to get us out,'' he said by telephone from a major city outside of Uruzgan.

On Thursday a spokesman for Mr Morrison refused to comment on why visas for interpreters had been delayed and urged Fairfax not to publish certain information about the interpreters, citing security concerns.

The Australian Defence Force declined to comment on operational security grounds in order to better protect local employees. Fairfax has withheld some information.

While the interpreters have been promised resettlement the situation is less clear for dozens of civilians who worked for or with Australians in the province and who also fear Taliban retribution.

Among the Afghan civilians left behind are instructors from an Australian army-run trade training school in Kamp Holland who on Saturday said their applications were still not finalised despite applying several months ago.

One of the instructors, whose identity was withheld, revealed he had narrowly escaped a Taliban assassination attempt.

The instructor, who spoke by telephone, worked at the base for six years and said he was willing to speak out about his situation because the Taliban already knew who he was and he wanted Australians to know the situation.

He said he had applied for a visa more than six months ago and been told he had been approved but was still waiting a final approval associated with a medical test.

However he said he had not heard anything for months about the test.

He said last year he had narrowly escaped being executed by the Taliban when they caught him away from his home fishing in a river.

"They [the Taliban] were on the other side of the river and there were two of them on motorbikes and they called out to me.

''I started to walk away but they got out a pistol and shot at me. I ran,'' he said.

Mr Morrison and Defence Minister David Johnston would not make any comment about the civilians' cases.

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