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Article: What Are We Waiting For?

What Are We Waiting For?

What Are We Waiting For?

In the spring of 2011, I was a fire team leader in Sangin, Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. My platoon was spread out between two different outposts, and we only had one interpreter to conduct our patrols. As we were performing a population-centric mission predicated on our ability to separate the insurgents from the local populace, my squad needed our own interpreter to gather information and intelligence from the civilians we lived amongst. At the end of April, our command sent us NB.
NB allowed us to develop an extensive network of informants. The information provided by those people enabled my squad and the rest of my platoon to safely uncover IEDs and destroy them before they could harm others. In an area of operations that was littered with landmines, NB was indispensable. He stepped outside our compound’s (relative) safety with us, knowing full well that in Sangin, each step was precious and something to be taken with intense seriousness. He knew that lurking on any path, buried at crossing points of canals and treelines, was a pressure plate connected to 15-40lbs of homemade explosives with no one’s name on it yet built custom for him. NB knew that his family was under threat because of his work with coalition forces, even back in 2011 when the surge was still on and US commitment to the war was strong. But he wanted to make a difference for his country. He wanted to fight back against the oppressors that held his country down for so long, so he left the compound anyway.
Now, NB is trapped in a hell of our making, and only we have the power to help. As Afghanistan unravels and the security situation deteriorates, he is left with nowhere to go. Despite promises about evacuating interpreters from Afghanistan, as it stands now, NB will not be evacuated. He does not live in Kabul, and with the withdrawal of US forces back to the capital, there is currently no path to evacuation outside of that city, at least not that we have been made aware of. It certainly is not safe for him to travel from Herat to Kabul, as the Taliban have made an effort to encircle the capital and choke off the highways leading to it. While the US has committed to the commencement of evacuations of Afghans who qualify for the SIV program. Nothing has been said about those who live outside Kabul or those who haven’t progressed through the SIV application process. Currently, in order to complete the SIV application, applicants have to travel to Kabul to interview at the US Embassy there.
NB was initially denied asylum through the SIV program due to the termination of his first contract with US forces for overstaying his time on leave. Now, he has been granted the opportunity to appeal the initial decision about his asylum claim, yet he is being held up because he does not have an HR letter from his employer, DynCorp. DynCorp was bought out last year by Amentum, adding yet another piece to the puzzle NB needs to solve to get to safety.
The US government is responsible for helping those who helped us. NB and thousands of interpreters just like him are responsible for saving the lives of countless Marines and civilians through his work with us, yet we stand on the precipice of leaving the country and leaving him to his fate. Current estimates show that up to 18,000 Afghans who worked with US and coalition forces are waiting for their SIV applications to be processed, along with a number of their family members. Without a significant change to the SIV program that allows for faster processing of applications and without an earnest attempt to evacuate former interpreters, I fear that NB will be left at the mercy of the Taliban. 
As US forces depart Afghanistan and this war finally ends, I feel pride at my service and sadness at the result of 20 years of conflict. I hope that we take what is to come as a clear indictment of the costs of militarizing our foreign policy, at allowing our policymakers and decision makers to take us to war without clear strategic goals and plans and policies that support those goals. I feel immense disappointment at the inability of our higher command and the civilian politicians that oversee them to craft a winning strategy that actually reflects our ideals of democracy, fairness, and human rights. 
I hope that even as we depart under less than desirable conditions, we can at minimum honor those who sacrificed alongside us by bringing our interpreters and their families home. NB is married to a doctor who currently works for the Afghan National Army, he and his wife welcomed a daughter into their lives in 2020. He has sent me pictures of both his wife and their baby, urging me to continue to advocate on their behalf so that even if the worst should befall NB, at least I know his wife and daughter and can work to bring them to safety in the US. I hope that this plea does not fall on deaf ears, I hope that we can salvage something meaningful from this ignominious departure from Afghanistan, and I pray that we can bring my friend and his family home.
Written By Caleb Taylor
July 28, 2021



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