After 20 years in Afghanistan, U.S. forces are finally withdrawing. I know we have been there too long when both my son and I spent time as Marines fighting in the same war. I don’t believe any veteran would contest that we should leave. The question, rather, is whether we are leaving from a position of sound military strategy and in a moral way—as a nation that will honor our Afghan allies who fought shoulder to shoulder with us for two decades.
As a Force Recon Marine, I was privileged to be part of a Joint Special Operations Command Task Force (JSOC) serving alongside the most remarkable special operations warriors in more than 100 operations over eight deployments. I worked with many excellent men whose courage and bravery cannot even begin to be captured in words. Among those men, some of the most heroic were our Afghan teammates, who served as interpreters, cultural advisors, and fellow warfighters pursuing a free Afghanistan. They believed in America’s mission to eradicate jihadists that threatened the lives of Afghans and Americans.
As the current administration calls our military home, we are leaving many of our Afghan teammates behind. And as the Taliban advances in taking provinces, the threat to their lives and those of their families increases. Out of fear for survival, neighbors and friends are identifying them to the Taliban. Our allies are in grave danger. Some have already been executed.
Many veterans like myself are fighting to keep our Afghan brothers safe and we’re taking matters into our own hands to help them leave Afghanistan, since our government is doing nothing. I personally am committed to getting “Bashir” (not his real name) and his family out of Afghanistan alive.
I supervised and worked with Bashir during combat operations, where he served as both my interpreter and a critical operations team member on eight separate special operations deployments. He was responsible for saving many American lives, including mine, on more than one occasion. He also contributed to the overall success of hundreds of JSOC missions to capture and kill high-value terrorists; in fact, he was the key Afghan in our clandestine operations. Outside of my task force, he served the United States in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years on special projects. He was highly vetted and polygraphed regularly. I lived in Bashir’s home, ate dinners with his family, played soccer with his kids, and personally observed him prove his loyalty time and again.
I can tell you dozens of stories, but I’ll share just one that highlights Bashir’s courage (a virtue he displayed daily). Four Navy SEALs found themselves stuck in a Taliban-infested village. They needed an unconventional extraction so as not to compromise their mission and risk their lives or those of other U.S. service members. Without a thought of his own personal safety, Bahir quickly came up with a plan we trusted, and he drove me and two other team members in the middle of the night, hours into enemy territory. We were able to extract the SEALs, save lives, and protect the integrity of a critical operation. He is an American hero, yet he’s not yet an American.
Since the United States announced its withdrawal, the Taliban identified Bashir as working with special operations and made threats to kill him and his family. He has been on the move with his wife and kids, relocating daily to stay safe. He has tried multiple times to get out, but for years the special immigrant visa process has been broken and now the U.S. embassy in Kabul is closed “due to Covid.”
We owe it to Bashir and his family to get them out of Afghanistan, or they will be killed because of his service to America. My former teammates and I have pulled together $80,000 to move Bashir and his family to a country where they would be safe, with access to an embassy where they can begin the process of seeking asylum.
As the United States faces an immigration crisis of unprecedented proportions, many Americans may be reluctant to import tens of thousands of Afghan allies. ButAmerica is still responsible for protecting our allies and delivering them from the hands of the Taliban. The Biden Administration should be working with allies across the region to resettle our Afghan allies in safe nations where they can rebuild. Until then, many like me will be taking matters into our own hands to do the right thing and save the lives of those who saved ours.