Afghan interpreters who helped American soldiers through more than a decade of combat are being left to die at the hands of the Taliban, as detailed in a new, multi-part documentary by Ben Anderson of Vice News.
The series says 80% of Afghans who formerly interpreted for U.S. troops are unable to acquire a visa to come to the United States. It details their life-threatening concerns in Afghanistan.
“Interpreters have become a very big target of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois.) told Reason.com. “There’s been a lot of beheadings of people that have worked with the West.”
With the U.S. planning to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, many of these vulnerable interpreters may be left on their own. Even those who do receive visas to come to America, with the promise of three months rent, furniture, and employment, are often neglected, CBS News reports.
The program starts by introducing Srosh, an ex-interpreter in Kabul who can't get an American visa even though he meets all of the requirements for one. The Taliban killed his relatives just two weeks before this interview.
Srosh lives in a small, unsecure setting and constantly fears for his life. The longer he has to stay in Afghanistan, he says, the more likely it is the Taliban 'are going to catch me, probably cut my head off.'
He's proud of his work for the U.S., and he shows off a certificate he hopes will expedite his visa process. When asked about his feelings toward America, he said, 'I know they will help me because I know the U.S. government is not corrupt.'
Most interpreters also carry binders full of credentials, thinking these papers will help them flee the country.
These two unnamed interpreters have both been unable to get American visas, even though their lives are in danger after aiding the U.S.
This man injured his genitals when an IED exploded near the unit of soldiers he was working with. He can't have kids now, and he says he can't go anywhere in Afghanistan because the Taliban 'will cut my head off.'
This former interpreter also fears for his life. The Taliban seriously injured him and killed his brother when they shot up his car in retaliation for his work for the U.S. He can't return home and often gets death threats from the Taliban.
Interpreters are harassed in other ways, too. Pictured with American troops, this man said he was robbed because many believe the interpreters are paid well. (In reality, he only ever made about $US15,000 in total.) He said he never would have taken the job if he knew the coalition would leave.
These men stay at home, even on weekends and holidays, because they always fear for their lives. They have gotten death threats from American-trained police who have connections to the Taliban.
'After the U.S. leaves in 2014, none of us will be alive anymore,' this man says, even though some troops will likely remain until 2016.
The men are not just paranoid. A Taliban spokesman told Vice News the interpreters are traitors and will be put to death.
Several ex-interpreters have been killed on camera, as the Taliban wants to show others what will happen to Afghans who helped the Americans.
If this man can't get a visa soon, he will have to borrow money and pay someone to smuggle him out. A fake visa to get to Europe costs around $US20,000.
Those who do escape illegally often become homeless and have no job prospects. This is a sleeping area in Athens, Greece where many Afghan refugees fled.
This abandoned warehouse housed hundreds of Afghan refugees at once. The building is still home to refugees passing through.
Some refugees attempt to enter Greece by hiding in secret truck compartments, but are often found by police.
Former interpreter Hamid Faizi fled Afghanistan and wound up in Greece, where he was sent to a prison camp for 18 months. He couldn't contact his family for two months.
The Taliban once offered to leave Faizi alone if he would give them his interpreter identification card and his car. He refused because he knew they would likely use them to carry out a suicide attack on an American or NATO compound, such as the one pictured below. Now, he feels America has betrayed him.
Interpreters who do receive American visas must deal with an unimaginable about of red tape. Even with the help of former U.S. Army Captain Matt Zeller, Janis Shinwari's application made no headway in three years.
Shinwari once saved Zeller's life by killing two Taliban fighters who were getting ready to attack the former Army captain.
Even though Shinwari had been the personal interpreter for 12 U.S. senators, he didn't get a visa until Zeller kicked up a media storm. Zeller said it's impossible to raise that level of awareness for others in need.
Zeller now takes in Afghan refugees who are allowed to come to America. This ex-interpreter, Ajmal, didn't even get to say goodbye to his close friends. He left Afghanistan quickly once the Taliban got word that he acquired a visa.
However, during the Vice News interview, he got an email saying he was no longer eligible for resettlement benefits because he didn't take a U.S.-arranged flight to America. His case was closed.
America's lack of resources for the visa process poses a major problem for the Afghan interpreters. The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is one of very few places dealing with the problem.
However, IRAP only has four employees. And the Afghan interpreters can't get help from the Department of Defence since it doesn't consider the interpreters to be veterans.
Yet, former Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran and current Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger said the government 'would move heaven and earth to bring them back.' He says background checks are probably holding up the process, though there are no known cases of interpreters coming to the U.S. and turning to terrorism.
Earlier this year, new legislation was proposed that would make it easier for interpreters to get visas. The law would increase the number of available visas and streamline the process for obtaining one. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), was instrumental in crafting the proposal.
But just a few weeks after the announcement, political infighting stalled any new legislation involving immigration.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, this former interpreter, who is speaking with Zeller and Shinwari via Skype, had to come out of hiding because he ran out of money. He now drives a taxi. Worse yet, he got word that Taliban prisoners he helped arrest had been released.
The State Department declined to be interviewed for the series. There are just 280 visas left for Afghan interpreters, with more than 6,000 applicants trying to obtain one.
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