“Leave no fallen comrade behind”….except Afghan Terps?

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Iowa National Guard Lt. Pat Hendrickson, right, stands with Nabiullah Mohammadi in Afghanistan. “He was my right-hand man,” Hendrickson said.(Photo: Courtesy photo via The Des Moines Register)

Iowa National Guard Lt. Pat Hendrickson, right, stands with Nabiullah Mohammadi in Afghanistan. “He was my right-hand man,” Hendrickson said.(Photo: Courtesy photo via The Des Moines Register)

The price of aiding and abetting the U.S.?

One of the most often repeated phrases in our military culture is “Leave No Fallen Comrade Behind.” Many service members relied so heavily on their Afghan and Iraqi translators that some were considered members of the unit. It goes without saying that, when troops are in the combat zone, their lives are in constant danger. But at the end of their tours, they get to go home.

Translators, however, do not have that luxury.

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Predictably, like Iraqi Terps, so too the Afghan interpreters who aligned themselves to helping U.S. forces:

The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) is a U.S. program established for Afghan or Iraqi translators who have worked with the U.S. military. Translators play a crucial role for the U.S. military, and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance project estimates that around 50,000 Iraqi and Afghan nationals have served as translators over the past decade. However, working with the U.S. often comes with a heavy cost: being branded a “traitor” by the Taliban and other groups, putting the translators and their family members at constant risk. The SIV program was intended to provide protection against this by allowing the translators and their families to migrate to the U.S. after their service.

Unfortunately, the program has fallen short, as evidenced by a recent protest held by Afghan translators outside the U.S. embassy in Kabul, demanding that the U.S. follow through with its promised visas.

Obtaining a visa under the SIV program entails a lengthy, and costly, application process. There are three steps. First, the applicant must file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security (USCIS). The applicant is required to provide basic information, a birth certificate, with certified English translation, proof of employment with the U.S, evidence of a background check, and a letter of recommendation.

If that is approved, the translator may move on to step 2, applying for the visa. This requires submitting many of the same documents, plus additional information for every family member. The entire process can – and often does – take years.

Taking years, unlike the complications experienced by others in the immigration process, can cost Afghan interpreters their lives.

By expediting the process, what are the chances of letting in some bad players?

One reason civil servants might be wary about issuing visas is that they do not want to be associated with allowing potential security risks into the U.S. However, many of the soldiers who served alongside the translators disagree with the notion of any potential security risk. Indeed, U.S. soldiers have campaigned for a more efficient visa approval process, including U.S. Army soldier Matt Zeller, who has revealed that during his time in Afghanistan the Taliban would attempt to have the translators dismissed by calling and making fraudulent claims to the U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

Congress has just extended the SIV program for another two years, after it was set to expire on December 31, 2014. The extension is likely to assist thousands of Afghans. However, as American troops start to pull out, the translators and their families who are being left behind remain at serious risk of retribution from the Taliban.

As I asked here:

What do we still owe Iraq and Afghanistan, if we owe anything at all? Pottery barn rule? President Obama seems content to absolve U.S. hands of any further involvement and entanglements, having failed in renegotiating SoFA for the sake of national security and self-interest (which is tied to Iraqi’s security and interests); and we as a nation seem at peace with exiting both theaters, cutting our losses, weary of American blood and treasure spent or squandered (however you wish to look at it).

And what responsibility should we have toward individual lives and families, like Roy’s, who sided with the Americans? Why should we care? How do we honor those soldiers and military families who sacrificed the ultimate? Aren’t we selfish Americans, after all, who care only about nation-building at home? Who have no further responsibility nor obligation toward the mess and aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan? They own it, now. They should fix it.

Isn’t it cynical to believe America still stands as a beacon of freedom to the world, in this day and age? The last best hope?

Did we prove to OBL that America isn’t a paper tiger?

Should we care whether or not Roy’s mom hates us? Blames us- as so many rightly and wrongly do- for the state Iraq is in, today? Should we concern ourselves on whether or not Roy’s siblings are able to have a good life? Should Blake Hall be the only person to shoulder the guilt, compassion, sense of moral responsibility to Mohammed/Roy? What is he to us, who did not personally know him?

In Sept 2013, USA Today reported Iowa troops fight to get Afghan interpreter to U.S.:

DES MOINES — Nabiullah Mohammadi knows exactly how lucky he is to have made it to Des Moines.

The young Afghan man risked his life for years to help waves of American soldiers navigate the complicated politics, customs and languages of his country. When interpreters were scarce, he went on multiple missions a day. He kept at it, even after village leaders threatened to denounce him to the Taliban. He even returned to work after a bomb blast seriously injured him.

“I have so much respect for Nabi,” said Pat Hendrickson, an Iowa Guard lieutenant who served with him in a rugged, volatile region near the Pakistan border. “I served one deployment in Afghanistan. He probably served six or seven, when you think about it.”

Hendrickson and other Iowa soldiers feared that the slight, friendly interpreter and his family would be killed. That’s why they helped him apply for permission to move to America. Then they helped shepherd his application through a balky State Department process, which critics say has left many deserving people in perilous limbo in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More stories:

These interpreters were a huge help to us, and based on their willingness to help our country, their lives are in severe jeopardy based on Taliban members who became aware of their international aid. “If I can’t go to the States, my life is over,” said an interpreter named Muhammad. “I swear to God, one day the Taliban will catch me.”

A while back, Muhammad was asked to mediate between U.S. soldiers and locals after an American convoy ran over an Afghan child, which lead to the child’s death. This situation had the ability to escalate quickly, and he put his life on the line to take on the job. Since he believed that he was spotted by a Taliban member during his assignments, he noted it on his application for his visa. All applicants are required to establish that they have experienced, or are currently experiencing, an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of employment by or on behalf of the U.S. government – but according to the U.S., Muhammad’s experience didn’t qualify.

In order to try and help us, interpreters disguised their identities by adopting a fake name, and some even wore masks and used other forms of costume. Even by trying to live a phony life, the Taliban can often still identify those who joined forces with us – especially if the interpreter originated from a very small town.

Another interpreter who goes by the name of Naseri was also denied a visa, despite the fact that he survived three attacks by improvised bombs on the military units he accompanied. Also? His family was threatened by the Taliban, who tracked down his address and threatened to kill them. If that’s not the definition of “serious threat”, I’m not sure what is.

Afghan interpreter Ehsan Mashal had his house raided a few months ago, and narrowly escaped Taliban fighters by jumping over the wall to the home next door. The fighters threatened to cut off Mashal’s head as punishment for helping American soldiers.

One interpreter already lost his life based on his participation. A U.S. Marine interpreter named Mustafa was kidnapped and killed outside Kabul in August, several days after he completed his visa interview. Who knows how many more will lose their lives, or lose their family, before this gets straightened out. How does this failure to accommodate those who helped us reflect on our country on a global level?

9 Responses to ““Leave no fallen comrade behind”….except Afghan Terps?”

  1. 2

    another+vet

    This administration has made it clear that if you support the U.S. you will be abandoned. Eventually people will think twice about supporting us overseas knowing they will be thrown to the wolves when it’s time for us to cut and run for political reasons (Iraq and Afghanistan being the two most recent examples). This of course leads to less cooperation in the form of less usable intelligence not that we need it because GWOT is “over with”. The left never has and never will understand National Security just like everything else they claim to be “experts” in.

  2. 3

    Wordsmith

    editor

    I don’t really perceive it as a partisan issue but a U.S. problem and that of bloated bureaucracy.

    @DrJohn: I’m also reminded of how Mohammed Gulab’s life is endangered:

    Gulab’s just 40, but his beard is streaked with white. The Taliban are actively hunting for him and his family, he says, and he may spend the rest of his life paying for his decision to protect Luttrell.

    Gulab has never second-guessed his choice. But in recent months, something seems to have been lost in translation between the two unlikely friends. While visiting the U.S. for a few months last year to help promote the film, Gulab says Luttrell promised to help him move to the United States. But in the end, the Afghan says he spent most of his final month in America alone in a bedroom in California, and was unable to meet with Luttrell before abruptly being sent back to Afghanistan. The retired Navy SEAL repeatedly declined to be interviewed for this story, but a family representative offered a different version of events that suggests a tragic misunderstanding. Nevertheless, Gulab feels betrayed by Luttrell, who he says hasn’t returned his calls in months. He still wants to move to America, but worries he’s running out of time. “My life,” he says, “is in worse danger than ever.”

    The events that brought these two men together occurred nearly a decade ago. In June 2005, Gulab stumbled upon a stranger at a waterfall near his home in the mountains of Kunar province in northeastern Afghanistan. The man—Luttrell—was the only survivor of a four-man recon team that Taliban fighters had ambushed. He’d been shot twice and was bleeding profusely, his back was broken and he had shrapnel wounds in both of his legs.

    Gulab immediately knew that the man was American—and that the Taliban were after him. Nevertheless, he took Luttrell into his home and protected him. He considered it his sacred duty under the tribal code of honor known as Pashtunwali, which mandates Pashtuns should protect anyone in need. When the insurgents came to demand that he hand over Luttrell, Gulab refused. The Taliban persisted, alternating between promises of money and threats to murder him and the rest of the village. None of it changed Gulab’s mind. He and his neighbors remained steadfast.

    Without phones or radios, the villagers sent a man on foot across the mountains to carry a message to the nearest American base. Several days passed before the helicopters appeared. And as the Americans airlifted Luttrell out of the village, Gulab left, too. Fearing a Taliban reprisal, he and his family relocated to a house in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province. To support his family, Gulab took a job doing odd tasks at the nearby U.S. military base.

    And then, crazy as it sounds, the Americans detained the man who risked his life to save Luttrell. The reason: misplaced suspicions that he had collaborated with the enemy. U.S. officials soon realized their mistake and set him free. He was still barred from the base, but the paychecks continued. “There’s no use complaining,” Gulab says. “The Army mindset is the Army mindset.”

    The paychecks eventually stopped, but the Taliban’s threats didn’t. Five years ago, an unidentified gunman shot Gulab just outside his house. He suffered only a flesh wound on his leg, but the shooting was a painful reminder that he was a marked man. “I put my life, my family’s life and the lives of my tribesmen at risk,” he says.

    Years passed with little contact between Gulab and Luttrell, according to the Afghan. In 2007, with the help of the British thriller writer Patrick Robinson, the Navy Cross recipient ­­­­­­­­­­­­­penned a book about his ordeal, also called Lone Survivor, which became a New York Times bestseller.

    Gulab wasn’t involved in the project. But Luttrell helped the devout Muslim get a visa in 2010 to the U.S. and paid his fare so the two could have a reunion. Gulab spent almost three weeks at the Luttrell family’s ranch in Texas. Neither man had learned to speak the other’s language well, but they bonded by shooting guns on Luttrell’s range. “I love him,” Gulab later said in an interview with 60 Minutes. “He’s my brother.”

    Luttrell concurred. “We’re family,” he told the news program. “We’re brothers in blood.”

    Gulab returned to Afghanistan, but Universal’s publicity department brought him back to America in August of last year on a five-month visa to join the press run-up to the film’s December release. He was given an advance viewing in a screening room at the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles with the movie’s writer and director, Peter Berg. The Afghan couldn’t understand the dialogue, of course, but got so caught up in the action that he began shouting “Allahu akbar!” meaning “God is the greatest.”

    Gulab saw the film three more times and even visited Las Vegas. Other aspects of his U.S. visit, he says, were less pleasant. He says he spent most of his final month in the U.S. cooped up in the California home of Nawaz Rahimi, an Afghan-American interpreter and friend of Luttrell’s who consulted on the film. The two hit it off. Gulab says Rahimi was hired to look after him and the two shared a room in the Rahimi family’s four-bedroom house, where Rahimi’s parents cooked most of Gulab’s meals. “The food was good,” he says. “His parents showed me respect. Rahimi’s family is a very good family.”

    But over time, Gulab complained he had no way to travel on his own, and little to do during the day but sit alone in his room. He didn’t understand American television and eventually became lonely and depressed. He had run through most of the $3,000 he brought with him to the States. He missed his family back in Asadabad and didn’t have his own cellphone to talk to them. He felt so trapped at one point that he smashed a window in the house just to get some fresh air. “I felt like a prisoner,” Gulab says. “I don’t have a problem with Rahimi. He’s a good guy. But he’s a grown American man. He would leave the house for seven or eight hours, and I would be alone in the room. I was a stranger in this country, and [Rahimi] was like my eyes and mouth.”

    On top of everything else, Gulab says he and Luttrell rarely spoke after the Afghan finished promoting the film in December, leaving Gulab with the impression that “Marcus [had] absolutely disconnected himself.” It’s unclear if Luttrell ever received word that Gulab was trying to reach him, but the family representative says the retired SEAL was extremely busy doing promotional work for the movie during that time.

    Seriously?! Anyone else thinks this sounds absolutely shameful?

    As the film started to generate buzz, Gulab began to worry what would happen when he returned to Afghanistan. The movie, and his work promoting it, he feared, would only make his enemies more determined. While traveling to Washington, D.C., Gulab says Luttrell introduced him to Kay Granger, a Republican congresswoman from Texas.

    Gulab was hoping to stay in America and acquire a green card; he says Granger and Luttrell tried to help him do so, and that the retired SEAL later advised him to seek asylum. But the Afghan decided against it. Gulab was under the impression that if U.S. officials granted his request, he could never return home. He remained hopeful that his friend, Luttrell, could come through. “I was 100 percent sure the U.S. government would give me a green card,” he says. “I sacrificed a lot.”

    Unfortunately, Gulab was misinformed. Members of Congress “can only make fluffy letters,” says Michael Wildes, a prominent immigration lawyer who helped Kwame James—the man who subdued the shoe bomber—acquire citizenship. Wildes says Gulab could have ultimately gotten the green card he so badly wanted. Without relatives in the U.S., he wouldn’t have been immediately eligible, but because of his valiant act and the Taliban’s threats, Gulab and his family would likely have received asylum, and then after about a year, could have applied for a green card. Gulab, admits he didn’t understand the process, and if Luttrell tried to correctly explain it, something was lost between the two men. Regardless, what happened next remains muddled.

    In January, Gulab says Rahimi told him he could no longer stay at his family’s house in California. The Afghan still had about a month left on his visa, but the Rahimis were moving and said they would no longer have room for him, he says.

    Gulab and Rahimi flew to Texas and stayed in a hotel in Houston. Gulab says he was hoping to speak to Luttrell. He wanted to find a job, rent an apartment and wait in the U.S. until he could acquire a green card, and then bring over his family. The next morning, however, Luttrell’s wife and father-in-law showed up and took Gulab shopping. Then they drove him to the airport. Gulab was shocked to be leaving. “I wasn’t ready to go,” he says, “but among my people, if someone tells you you’re no longer welcome, you leave.”

    Rahimi did not respond to requests for comment about Gulab’s departure, but the Luttrell family representative says Gulab left voluntarily and Luttrell didn’t understand why. Either way, Luttrell couldn’t be at the airport because he was promoting the movie, the representative adds.

    Gulab says he hadn’t seen his friend since the New York premiere, more than a month earlier. He says Luttrell called Rahimi’s phone before takeoff to wish him a pleasant flight. Indeed, in that final conversation, the family representative says Luttrell explained to Gulab that returning home early meant his current visa would automatically expire. Gulab says he felt betrayed: “I told him, ‘Listen…you said you would get me a green card. You made lots of promises that you didn’t keep.’” The Luttrell family representative did not respond to questions about Gulab’s recollection of the conversation, or whether the two have had any contact since.

    Even before Gulab’s flight touched down in Kabul, a pirated copy of the movie had already reached the Taliban in Kunar province. And as soon as he was on the ground, the death threats began. Gulab says he has changed phones and SIM cards dozens of times. Somehow the callers always manage to discover his new number. “Soon we will blow you to hell,” they warned.

    The callers, Gulab says, told him that the Taliban’s district commander, Mullah Nasrullah, is furious that his fighters have failed to kill him. Weeks ago, Nasrullah reportedly issued a harsh reprimand to his chief of operations in Asadabad, demanding to know why Luttrell’s savior was still alive. “Just send a suicide bomber and hit him,” Nasrullah ordered, the callers told Gulab.

    The district commander even phoned once to berate him personally, Gulab says. “The man you protected was an American soldier, not a Muslim,” Nasrullah complained. “There was nothing honorable about what you did.” Gulab disagrees: “I told the commander the man I saved was a human being. The question of honor has nothing to do with his religion. It’s about humanity and self-respect.”

    These days, Gulab can spend only a few hours at a time with his family. When darkness falls, he leaves for a secret hideout nearby. If he’s not at home, he thinks, the Taliban’s soldiers are less likely to target his house. He wouldn’t dare own a car even if he could afford one. Taliban bombers could kill him with a remotely triggered improvised explosive device.

    The attempts on his life continue despite his caution. On April 5, someone detonated an IED only a few steps away from the path where he was walking.

    An even more harrowing incident came days later. At midnight on April 14, a group of men arrived at the house and banged on the front door. Gulab wasn’t there. “Open the door!” the strangers shouted. “We are your neighbors!” The family left it locked. “The noise woke everyone in the house,” says Gulab’s eldest son, 17-year-old Gul Mohammad. “Then the men threw a small bomb at the house.” Although the blast mildly injured one of Gulab’s daughters, the family was too frightened to go outside until daybreak, when they finally took her to the hospital.

    The attacks and threats continue. Just last week, on June 16, a sniper’s bullet narrowly missed Gulab, instead wounding a cousin who was walking beside him.

    The Afghan’s financial problems are as persistent as the Taliban’s threats. He’s drained what little savings he had and is now borrowing money from friends or accepting their charity. “We get lots of guests who think money just comes to me, as if I’m a cash machine at an American bank,” says Gulab. The Afghan says Luttrell’s co-author, Patrick Robinson, has worked with him on a book to tell his side of the story. But they have yet to conclude a deal with a publisher, and Robinson declined to comment.

    Gulab says that last month, someone associated with the Luttrell family offered him $10,000 to stop speaking to Vocativ. Gulab demurred. (The associate did not respond to requests for comment about the alleged offer.) What Gulab wants most is to move to the U.S. and an end to the fear and anxiety that comes with being hunted by the Taliban. “The U.S. Embassy could give him safe haven and facilitate passage [to America],” says Wildes, the immigration lawyer. “[It’s] a delicate but possible endeavor.”

    If not to the U.S., then Gulab wishes he could at least afford to move his family to Kabul, where it’s safer. Through Rahimi, he says he has reached out to the retired SEAL for help, but hasn’t heard back. The silence, he says, saddens him and makes him angry. But he still doesn’t regret saving Marcus Luttrell.

  3. 4

    Wordsmith

    editor

    Only 120 signatures on this petition (now closed) when the target goal was a million (what use are these online petitions, anyway?). Does anyone have a link to anything more recent on Mohammad Gulab’s situation? This isn’t just a Luttrell, Hollywood, or even simply a State Dept. problem & concern. It should be an American concern.

  4. 5

    Pete

    Anyone who thinks trusting a leftist administration makes any sense should consider the difference in Obama’s treatmemt of the illegal alien hordes, who bring NOTHING beneficial with their illegal entry into our country (and swell the welfare rolls as well), compared to the treatmemt of the Iraqi and Afghan translators who actually worked -in many cases for years – in a combat theater supporting our military.

    Disgusting.

  5. 7

    Gregory_Dittman

    This isn’t the first time. The U.S. government has a poor history with allies. In the anthem of The U.S. Marines, there is a line of fighting in Tripoli. That was about the fighting of the Barbary pirates. Objectively, one could say that it was really the 300 some mercenaries from around the area that did the fighting of which none got paid.

    The U.S. rarely held up its bargain with the tribes that sided with the U.S. government.

    During the end of the U.S. involvement of Vietnam, the U.S. forces in the area technically broke orders and stole U.S. military equipment such as warships and aircraft to help Vietnamese allies flee Vietnam. Number of troops committing such act of treason was so great that to save face, the U.S. government made the rescue project official policy.

  6. 8

    john

    terps ? what about all those that joined the Afghan National Army?? Want them to come here also ?
    How many of these terps were made promises by people who shouldn’t have been making promises in order to ahve a better working relationship? How many said that yes you can apply for a visa knowing that the likely hood of getting one was nil?Perhaps the hate Obama people should know that the cap of 3000 visas for terps in 2014 was set by Congress
    The USA employed 10s of thousand of Cat 1 terps

  7. 9

    Wordsmith

    editor

    Latest on Gulab:

    Luttrell was the only survivor. But he had been shot twice, and suffered several cracked vertebrae and shrapnel wounds in his leg.

    Alone and certain he was dying, he was discovered by Gulab, who took him to his village and protected him from the Taliban.

    “I knew I had to help him; to do the right thing, because he was in a lot of danger,” Gulab said through a translator on “60 Minutes.”

    Luttrell was ultimately rescued by American forces and made it home. But now, it is Gulab who needs help.

    After aiding Luttrell, Gulab and his family had to go into hiding. They were threatened with death letters from the Taliban.

    He said his house was burned down and his cousin was killed.

    “They attacked him. They shot him. They’ve put RPG’s through his household,” said New York immigration attorney Michael Wildes. “He’s been living and hiding, and never in the same place in the same evening.”

    Wildes said he is working pro bono to bring Gulab and his family to the United States, and to grant him asylum.

    He has so far been able to help extract Gulab and some family members from Afghanistan to a neutral, undisclosed country. He said it happened last Saturday.

    But Wildes said getting asylum for Gulab and his family in the U.S. has proven delicate and complicated.

    “That means the UN. That means Homeland Security. That means a lot of officials have to sign off on this,” Wildes said. “I’m prayerful that they will.”

    Wildes said ultimately, the Department of Homeland Security will make the call.

    Ironically, Gulab has been to the U.S. before. He has occasionally visited Marcus Luttrell on his Texas ranch as recently as a few years ago.

    Wildes said Gulab probably could have stayed back then.

    “When he was here, he should have applied for asylum,” Wildes said. “This would have been a moot effort had he just remained here.”

    CBS2 reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment, and has not heard back.

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