EDGEWATER, Md. – In a lovable video chat, Zack shared the latest news from his beleaguered county in Afghanistan, an update as grim as it was familiar. The Taliban left a note in my house last night. And he recounted in a tone more surrender than horror, they said: “Give up tonight or else we will kill you.”
Major Thomas Schumann moved to his chair in a café 7,000 miles away as Zack described the escalating violence in the country as they worked together as a platoon leader and his invaluable interpreter.
The men fought in the 2010 Battle of Sangin, one of the bloodiest campaigns of the 20-year Afghan war, and later worked in Kabul advising the army. “It was very dangerous,” said Zack, who asked that his name only be used by his alias out of fear for his safety. But, you know, America came to our aid and worked side by side with us to build our country and bring peace and democracy. You never know what life will bring you.”
Zack, who spent three years in the military, confirmed that a US visa would be his reward after risking his life to help coalition forces. But even with Major Schumann’s help with the applications, calls, letters, and pleadings on his behalf, Zack waited six years for approval.
“I’ll keep working for you every day and every night until we take care of that,” insisted Major Schumann, a Marine Corps officer who now teaches at the Naval War College in Rhode Island. “I will never forget you, brother.”
Long before the Biden administration Pledge to evacuate thousands of Afghan translators Others at risk of Taliban retaliation, military veterans were seeking to bring their trusted partners to the United States.
These private efforts – often spurred by desperate messages via WhatsApp and Facebook from former colleagues in Afghanistan – have gained renewed urgency as US and NATO forces complete their withdrawal from the country, and Taliban fighters seize swathes of territory.
Promised crossing thousands of Afghans under Two special visa programsHowever, documents and security requirements spoiled many applicants. On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to speed up the process Increase the number of available visasBut the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where there is bipartisan support for the visa program but problems with funding.
The Biden administration is also racing to do more, and officials say An initial group of about 2,500 Afghans and their families He will be arriving at a base in Virginia in the coming days.
For veterans of a war that many concluded just can’t be won years ago, having interpreters fulfills at least one promised goal: to protect the Afghans who helped fight.
For the interpreters, whose identities were forever associated with the US-led war, the journey was perilous and slow, often taking years longer than expected. Several thousand remain trapped as Taliban fighters tighten their grip on areas outside the capital.
“I feel the sadness of the war,” Major Schumann said. They’ve been in that war for three years, but they’ve been in that war for 20 years, and every single member of the US military has come and gone.
Heroes or homeless
Less than a year after Ramesh Dervisi began working with US special operations teams in 2011, the Taliban began calling his cell phone and threatening his life.
In 2015, after moving his family to a series of safe houses, he applied for a US visa, which was approved last September. Mr. Dervishi and his wife, Frächta, borrowed money from relatives to pay for the necessary medical examinations and air tickets.
Rebels set fire to the Darwish family’s home in Farah province two weeks ago, and most of their relatives are in hiding.
Mr. Daruichi, 32, said he could not understand why it took so long to obtain a visa, after accompanying Green Berets on missions every night for five consecutive years and surviving firefights, ambushes and improvised bombings.
He credits his friend Ian Parker, a former US Army soldier with whom he trained Afghan commandos in Kandahar, with pushing his visa application after being idling for years. Parker, 37, now a contractor who splits his time between outdoor assignments and his home in Florida, called members of Congress.
“I’ve seen other interpreters get approval in less than a year, certainly less than two,” said Mr. Parker, who has not been able to meet his friend in person in the US yet. “I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”
Even after Mr. Deruichi’s papers began moving, Parker said, it was 354 days before he and his wife could come to the United States.
The couple settled in Northglen, Colorado, near Denver, after Mr. Parker suggested that the landscape might remind them of the home.
“The first days here were very good for me,” said Mr. Darwish. “No one was behind me. No one was looking to kill me.”
But six months later, the money he was getting from a refugee settlement agency for rent for a one-bedroom apartment ran dry. None of the region’s employers or colleges recognized his bachelor’s degree from Afghanistan, even though he graduated at the head of his class. While interviewing for jobs, Mr. Darwish contracted the coronavirus and passed it on to his wife, who was already suffering from a series of medical conditions. She was sick for a month and a half.
Afghan friends raised money to buy him a sedan so he could drive a food delivery company, where he earns about $215 a week after paying for fuel.
It was not enough.
Sitting at the coffee table in their modest apartment was an eviction notice, next to a brochure for an apartment complex for low-income families.
“Some people are calling us heroes,” said Mr. Darwichi. “Some call us homeless.”
On a shelf in the apartment he must vacate by October 1, Mr. Daruichi holds four framed certificates of appreciation from US military units and contractors he has helped for more than eight years. He also has several graduation certificates from online courses that he recently completed with the hope of entering a computer science program at a nearby university.
They withdrew from the sky
Last Saturday, a group of Afghans and Americans gathered in a secluded house among the redwoods south of San Jose, made pizza in an outdoor oven and reminisced about the early days.
Guests included Mohammad Yousafzai, the translator, and Adrian Kinsella, a former Marine chief, who met in Afghanistan in 2010, when Mr. Yousafzai was assigned to his platoon.
“We relied on him to translate everything but also to give us the true meaning and context behind the words,” Mr. Kinsella said. He never complained about doing two patrols a day. He hated the enemy even more than we did.”
After the Americans arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, Yousafzai said, men no longer walked in the market in his town holding shoplifters’ severed hands, and he could wear a soccer uniform with impunity when he and his brothers cycled 20 miles. To school. “I was very excited and happy,” said Mr. Yousafzai. “People are starting to live their lives.”
Recruited at the age of 18 by an American contractor, he was soon in the crossfire of the Taliban, who assassinated his father in retaliation. Leaving his job with the coalition after four years, he’s constantly on the run, facing threats of bullets one day when he sneaks into Kabul from hiding in Pakistan to sell his car.
After separating from the Marines, Mr. Kinsella attended Berkeley Law School and asked fellow students for help in Mr. Yousafzai’s case, which has been pending since 2010. Mr. Kinsella spent the next two years contacting senators and media figures to gain passage for Mr. Yousafzai and his family, including That’s a 3-year-old brother who was kidnapped by the Taliban, and held in a shed, while they waited. A note referred to a “friend of the Americans” and ordered Mr. Yousafzai to leave a $35,000 ransom on his father’s grave.
Finally, in early 2014, Mr. Yousafzai was granted a visa. He returned to Kandahar with his mother, who carried his documents because she knew they would not be searched, and was on his way to San Francisco. His mother, brothers and sisters soon followed him.
The family’s new neighbors in San Jose furnished and helped them settle in, later receiving medical care and teachers, and eventually an education Older children to drive. “I went to the neighborhood email and said to people, ‘This family has come out of heaven and is sitting on the ground with nothing,'” said Katie Senegalia, who owns the home in the woods where the group gathered to eat pizza.
Very good translator to share
Major Schumann admitted that he was in a mood the day he met Zack. He had already worked with several interpreters, but Zach was different. He was physically fit, and his English was excellent. Most of all, he was willing to go to Sangin, which many interpreters avoided, given the dangerous terrain.
“I immediately realized he was a special man and I was very fortunate to have him,” Major Schumann said. Marines in the other factions began to look forward to this new addition to the team with envy, but Major Schumann had no intention of sharing it.
The patrols were long and terrifying, as the Marines made their way through mined lands toward villages, often ambushed in a campaign that killed and injured dozens of soldiers.
At one point, Zack heard two Taliban fighters from afar talking on their radios while they were organizing an attack on a group of Marines slowly flowing towards them in formation, behind an engineer with a metal detector.
“He’s just running in the field and dealing with the guy,” recalls Major Schumann Zack, who not only attacked, but put Marine footprints on a trail free of his footprints.
“No other translator is willing to accept all these risks,” he said. We’d give Zack a loaded gun and have him on security while we were working on a casualty. I have several other kinds of Zack stories, but I think it’s a testament to the confidence we had in him.”
“We all walked to the landing area where the helicopters landed, and you know, they were knocking out one of our planes,” Major Schumann said when Zack Sangin left after this deployment was over.
Zack was unable to find the second of two contractors to hire him, delaying an already arduous process that left him desperate. I worked for two years with the army, and I had nothing. I don’t have worksheets, nothing. This is the reason for my delays.”
So far away from Kabul, in a province surrounded by the Taliban, it’s hard for him to see how the Americans can find him now that he’s hiding away.
Taliban leave threatening voice messages on Zack’s mobile phone. He cannot go to town and get a job to support his wife and four children.
“I can’t find a way to live a life,” Zack said.