afghan translator
January 2, 2014

Afghan Translator Immigrates


Tom: Well, 2014 is supposed to mark the beginning of the end for America’s longest and least popular war. President Obama plans to bring home the majority of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year. And as it stands, more than 2,300 American soldiers have already died in the conflict. But as this story shows, it is not just U.S. soldiers risking their lives.


Matt Zeller: Assam alaikum.


Tom: The last time they saw each other, Matt Zeller and Janis Shinwari were in Afghanistan fighting side by side against the Taliban, the Islamic extremist group. Zeller was a U.S. soldier and Shinwari was an Afghan translator for U.S. forces.


Zeller: I got my last member of my unit home. I can breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in five years. I got my buddy home.


Tom: They reunited in the fall at the airport in Washington, D.C., Shinwari’s last stop on a 36-hour journey out of Afghanistan.


Shinwari: I had a brother here to fight for me, and I was thinking that I can make it.


Tom: Zeller saw it as a fight for Shinwari’s life.

Shinwari: In 2009, my name was added on the Taliban kill list.


Tom: He became a marked man after the two were caught in a Taliban ambush in eastern Afghanistan.


Shinwari: We saw their first truck was blown up by IED. And then I saw Zeller, that he was away from the other unit in the kill zone, and shooting against the Taliban.


Tom: Zeller says that is when Shinwari shot and killed two insurgents sneaking up behind him.


Zeller: I mean, he saved my life.


Shinwari: Yeah, and he saved my life.


Zeller: Well, we’re even.


Tom: Afghans who serve alongside U.S. forces, those who, like Shinwari, would kill Afghan insurgents to save Americans, are now under threat from the Taliban.


Shinwari: When I was in Afghanistan, each minute of my life I thought that I would get killed.


Zeller: These people used to send us the body parts of interpreters that they captured as warning messages to our interpreters to quit now.


Tom: So Zeller helped get Shinwari and his family to the U.S. A promise he made to a man he says became like a brother to him on the frontlines.


Shinwari: He promised me that when he was leaving. And he told me that one day he will bring me home. And the United States is my home.


Tom: After years of waiting, Shinwari and his family got visas under a special program for Afghans and Iraqis who fought alongside U.S. forces. But there are thousands like Shinwari who aren’t as lucky.


U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer: We’ve been able to get out fewer than 10% of the people that we could have. The vast majority of these people, if they wanted to harm Americans, had all sorts of chances.


Tom: Tens of thousands of visas were put aside for Iraqis and Afghans, but just a fraction of those visas have been issued, leaving many in harm’s way.


Shinwari: The Taliban will kill them. They call them traitor of Islam. They call them American spies.


Tom: Shinwari and his family no longer have to fear the Taliban. For that, they had to leave a lot behind. Just 48 hours before, Shinwari was praying at his father’s grave in Afghanistan, saying his goodbyes. Now they are in America ready to start a new life, an American soldier by their side.


Zeller: It’s your country now. Welcome home!


Shinwari: Thank you.


Tom: Now, the process to get Shinwari and his family to the U.S. took nearly seven years.


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