If a friend told you he booked a vacation to ‘goof off and soak in the sun’, you would be forgiven for thinking he had opted for a week on the Costa del Sol. Miles Routledge seems to be a bit different. He’d seen news reports stating that, while the Taliban were making inexorable progress through Afghanistan, it would be months before they seized Kabul. So off he went.
Late last week, he was strolling through the bazaars like a typical Brit abroad, snapping pictures of exotic dishes and posting updates on Facebook about the inferior quality of Afghan plumbing.
It was just two days into his trip, after the Taliban had marched into the capital and flights out of the city had been canceled, that Routledge, 22, wrote on Facebook: ‘I’m stuck in Afghanistan. Bit of a pickle.’
Routledge, a student at Loughborough University who is thankfully not reading international relations but physics, set off for Afghanistan with the optimism of Tintin but the geopolitical awareness of Captain Haddock. He is, in the parlance of the no-holds-barred web forum 4chan where he has already amassed thousands of followers — and by his own admission — ‘a retard’ for making the trip. He settled on Afghanistan after googling ’most dangerous countries to visit’ and picking the top entry.
‘I was under the impression that the country wouldn’t fall for another month, so I thought it was going to be fine,’ he said in an interview with The Spectator from a Kabuli safe house. ‘I’d seen videos on YouTube of people going. I thought maybe the worst case would be food poisoning.’
The worst case, as it happened, was waking up on Sunday to find the Afghan military had fled and the Taliban had taken over Kabul.
Routledge maintains he has been unshaken by the experience thanks to his Catholic faith. He described on Twitch, a livestreaming website, that he imagined being asked to renounce Christ at gunpoint and refusing. He has been out and about with a crucifix around his neck.
‘I was fully prepared for death, I accepted it,’ he said, ‘This trip has been a test of God. I’m very religious so I believe I’ll be looked after. Before I left I wrote a letter to my friends saying that if I died, not to feel guilty, that I would die happy and religious and proud.’
His audacity has earned him a strong reputation on 4chan, where users have taken to calling him Lord Miles because of a £15 online purchase he made two years ago giving him the right to use the title. Routledge posted a picture of his American Express card showing his lordly credentials, adding: ‘The Taliban may see that as reason enough to keep me alive, thinking it may hold some negotiating power as they’ll think I’m important. Let’s hope it won’t get to that stage though.’
Routledge claims that the forum saved his life after his fans started researching regional Taliban activity and alerted him that a day trip he had planned would mean entering insurgent territory. ‘I’m forever grateful,’ he said.
He asked us not to reveal the location of his safe house in order to avoid the Taliban’s attention. He hopes either the British government will assist him to leave (the Foreign Office was contacted for comment) or to keep his head down and catch his scheduled flight out this coming week. The third option, which he hopes to avoid, is ‘stay permanently in a grave’. Maybe we should pray for him.