Disservice to Afghan translators

Published: Monday, Sept. 16 2013 1:25 p.m. MDT

U.S. military personal and their Afghan allies talk to a group of village elders in 2011. (Associated Press) U.S. military personal and their Afghan allies talk to a group of village elders in 2011. (Associated Press)

As the United States prepares to depart Afghanistan after more than 12 years of war the State Department is tragically neglecting the native Afghans who put their lives at risk to help the United States military, says Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Dakota Meyer in the Washington Post.

“Four years ago, a bleeding Afghan interpreter, Fazel, staggered out of an ambush in Ganjigal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Trapped inside the valley were four Americans. Asked to help rescue them, he said, 'I have a wife and baby. But I will go back.' Fazel returned to the battle, killed several Taliban fighters and carried out the bodies of the fallen Americans.” Meyer talks about the very same battle that earned him his Medal of Honor. And while Meyer was home in the United States, Fazel was stuck in Afghanistan with the Taliban constantly on his trail, a chest full of medals and recommendations from both Afghan and U.S. officers coming to naught as he sought a visa to the United States for him and his family.

Since Fazel applied for a visa, “the State Department has issued almost 2 million visas to immigrants." Yet Fazel, like many other Afghans — and even Iraqis — who helped the United States found his application hoplessly deadlocked in a system which involved multiple recommendations, interviews in the Kabul embassy and finally checks by D.C. security committees who see little need to hurry the process up.

It wasn’t until “a few days ago,” that Fazel finally received his visa after senior commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford intervened directly on his behalf. “On the one hand, this is a happy ending to a nearly five-year odyssey. But it is depressing that a four-star general had to personally intervene to resolve the case of someone clearly loyal to the United States.”

In 2009 Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, the United States has 1,400 visas a year for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government, but of that Meyers claims that the State Department authorizes around a mere 200 of those a year. The 1,400 visas are certainly too small a number to begin with, let alone the fact that only 200 end up being authorized.

Meyer ends with a call for action from the State Department to protect those who put their lives on the line for the U.S government.

Secretary of State John Kerry threw away Vietnam decorations to display his disgust with that war. Of all U.S. officials, Kerry should be the most resolved not to see Afghanistan veterans throw away their medals in disgust because their comrades — the interpreters — were left behind. Forceful management by the State Department can fix this problem. If that is institutionally too difficult, then give the responsibility to Gen. Dunford. Thousands of combat veterans are watching.”

Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College grad and a writer for the Deseretnews.com Opinion section. Email Freeman at fstevenson@deseretdigital.com

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