“I can’t continue my life like this,” H.S., a former Afghani interpreter for the U.S. government said. “The Taliban, if they find me, they will send me to jail or kill me.” Under the pretense that U.S. visas would be granted to those who served in the U.S. military, several Afghani civilians enlisted their services as interpreters amidst the Afghanistan War. While their association with U.S. forces has already resulted in the deaths of 300 interpreters, many Afghans made the brave decision despite the inherent risk due in part to the promise of a U.S. Visa and the opportunity to pursue a more prosperous life.
Although the U.S. government made these promises, a group of “blacklisted” interpreters have since been stripped of this opportunity. Many of these interpreters claim that they were either unjustly barred from the contracting firms that hired them or from receiving a U.S. Visa. In the case of H.S., whose story bears a striking resemblance to several other interpreters hiding in Afghanistan, he failed a counterintelligence screening, a test used to determine whether an individual has ties to espionage or terrorism, after mixing up the Western and Afghan calendars when providing the official with the date of a work trip to Pakistan. Subsequently, H.S. was fired, and his application for a U.S. Visa was rescinded in 2021, a few months before the remaining troops in Afghanistan were brought back to the U.S. and the Taliban surged to regain control of the country.
Now, H.S. says that the Taliban identifies him as a target as its members have threatened him over the phone and demanded that local shops and mosques alert them if he’s spotted. H.S. has remained hidden since U.S. forces were pulled from Afghanistan. “Many of the translators who worked shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. government have been left behind, including my brother,” H.S.’s brother stated.
Abdul Rashid Shirzad, another interpreter stuck in Afghanistan had strong letters of recommendation sponsoring him for a U.S. visa. They described him as a “true hero” and a man of “great character and dignity”. However, in 2016, three years after his work with U.S. forces ended, his application for a Special Immigrant Visa was denied. Other than the embassy’s letter to Shirzad stating that he failed to provide “faithful and valuable service” and that his case “lacked sufficient documentation”, no explanation was provided. Although he appealed, he never heard back about the visa status. “I gave everything I had to the Americans, but once they are gone, I will be killed,” Shirzad said. The fears he expressed in 2016 match the current outcome of U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan interpreters are now left stranded as the Taliban continues to pose a looming threat.
Many have been unable to return to their hometowns or villages because their work with U.S. forces has been recognized by the Taliban. “The Taliban have taken control of my village. I can’t dare to go home to our farm. I can’t even go on a picnic. I have become a prisoner of my house,” said Omid Mahmoodi, who worked with the U.S. for three years in Afghanistan.
This is the disturbing reality of the aftermath of leaving loyal Afghani citizens who aided the U.S. during the war stranded in a land where they’re a constant target for the Taliban. Moreover, in following suit with the promises made during the war, the U.S. has an obligation to assist in their evacuation.