Getting Afghan interpreters out of Afghanistan isn’t progressive: It’s the right thing to do

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For 20 years we have been locked into the quagmire that is the Afghan war. Throughout this time, we have relied on hundreds of local Afghan citizens as interpreters to augment our military power. 

During my service as a Marine sergeant, I had two combat deployments to Afghanistan; my platoons each had an Afghan interpreter. These men decided to work for the United States knowing well that they had signed their own death warrants by working with us. These men not only worked with us, they lived with us, they patrolled with us, and when we came under fire, they stood with us providing valuable insight on the local area. These men sat in our vehicles with the same risk of roadside bombs that we experienced every day. When we hit a roadside bomb, they suffered injuries or death, just like us. These men were in the foxhole with us every day. 

On the morning of July 27, 2010, my platoon was operating an observation post in Helmand province. One vehicle was on a hill overlooking the town we were tasked to watch while another would ferry supplies to the observation post. At around 11 a.m. the resupply vehicle made a supply drop and was heading back to our patrol base. As they made their return, their vehicle hit the pressure plate for a 120-pound roadside bomb. Instantly the 15-ton vehicle was thrown into the air like a child’s toy, flipping over and landing on its right side. 

The driver Lance Cpl. Shane Martin was killed instantly. The platoon commander had a broken pelvis; the gunner received a massive concussion and 10 stitches to his forehead from hitting the sight; the scout in the back was launched from the vehicle 15 feet away and landed unconscious in the dirt, and our interpreter “Carlos,” bounced off the walls in the rear of the vehicle like a pinball. 

As soon as the vehicle landed, Carlos got out of the vehicle, picked up an M4 rifle, and got into a defensive position to provide cover while we recovered the wounded. Our interpreter, an Afghan citizen, defended our vehicle and assisted the responding Marines with everything we needed to do to secure the scene and the landing zone for the medevac. 

His bravery didn’t end there.

The most heroic thing Carlos did was requesting to come back to our platoon and continue the mission, instead of going home after he was cleared for duty.  

Through their years of service alongside us, Afghan interpreters risked their lives daily. Meanwhile, our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen eventually rotated out of the country to the safety of the United States — while the Afghan interpreters remained in the country under the constant threat of death.

Thus far, over 300 interpreters have been killed since 2014 for serving alongside our forces. 

While I am relieved to hear that the United States is committed to evacuating the Afghan interpreters and translators who served alongside our military during our 20 years of war in Afghanistan, we still must do everything in our power to move them as fast as possible.

Since 2014, the State Department has had a 14-step program that interpreters could follow to be granted a Special Immigrant Visa. However, during that time, it has accrued a backlog of 18,000 people waiting an average of two years before they are interviewed. This process includes multiple background checks, interviews, and very stringent prerequisites that the interpreters must meet before they are even able to start the process.

Our top priority should be getting through this red tape as quickly as possible while having the Afghan people who did so much for us in a safe location while their application is processed.

After everything they have done for us, it’s the least we can do for them.

These interpreters did not just “do a job” for the U.S. They joined us in everything we did. They were ready to lay down their lives with us. Making a priority of evacuating all of the 18,000 SIV applicants out of their hostile home country into a safe place while they wait is imperative.

We cannot allow our allies to be left in Afghanistan while the Taliban takes back control. Helping these people get to the United States where they will be safe isn’t conservative, it isn’t progressive — it is simply the right thing to do.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Michael Wendt is a five-time combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tags afghan interpreters Afghan translators Afghanistan Afghanistan withdrawal Afghanistan–United States relations evacuation interpreters War in Afghanistan
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