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An Afghan Interpreter Who Helped The U.S. Military Is Now A Target For The Taliban

An Afghan interpreter with the U.S. Army is pictured in 2010. Many interpreters now fear for their lives with the Taliban taking power.
Patrick Baz
AFP via Getty Images
An Afghan interpreter with the U.S. Army is pictured in 2010. Many interpreters now fear for their lives with the Taliban taking power.

Updated August 16, 2021 at 6:27 PM ET

Thousands of Afghan nationals who worked alongside the U.S. during the 20-year war in Afghanistan are in danger of being killed by the Taliban.

Many Afghan nationals worked as translators, drivers and in other roles assisting the U.S. and coalition members. With the Taliban now in control, they've never been more vulnerable.

One man, whom the Americans called Reggie, says he's now in constant fear at his home in Kabul.

"Since these insurgents have arrived, I cannot sleep for a minute. I can't sleep for a single minute," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition.

He was an interpreter for nine years for the U.S. Army. He says there are pictures of him with members of the U.S. military online and the Taliban wouldn't forgive him if they found out. NPR isn't using his full name for security reasons.

From his roof, he watched Taliban forces move through his neighborhood on Sunday shortly after the city's police abandoned the nearby station.

Reggie says the Taliban fighters drove around and spoke to residents.

"[The Taliban were] telling them, 'Don't worry. We are here for your protection.' And, 'We're not going to harm any one of you guys. And we are here for the enemy of this country.' So, they were actually giving the people time in order to be relaxed. But still, no one can trust on their words. They can do anything, any moment, whatever they want," he says.

"I'm standing out in front of my house, but I'm not feeling safe. There isn't a single moment that I can be feeling relaxed," he says.

He's one of roughly 20,000 Afghan nationals, along with 53,000 of their family members, who are currently in a backlog for special immigrant visas to come to the U.S. The process is 14 steps long and takes an average of three and a half years, according to the nonprofit No One Left Behind, which works to help interpreters secure visas.

Reggie has been trying to get a visa for a decade.

The nonprofit says 300 Afghan interpreters and their family members have already been killed since 2001 because of their association with American forces.

"There is a retribution campaign" against them, the group's chairman, James Miervaldis, told All Things Considered.

Reggie still suffers from injuries he got during his time working with the U.S., when a suicide bomber attack left 23 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body. He has problems with his left ear and sometimes can't control his body.

"Because of my service, my family is suffering right now. My family, my kids is telling me that, 'Bad guy is going to come and is going to kill you, then us.' And I keep telling them, 'No, there are a lot of good friends that I have in America. I have made a lot of good friends and they're going to take us, baby, you don't have to worry about it," he says.

Bo Hamby, Steve Mullis and Sean Saldana produced and edited the audio interview.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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Nell Clark
Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.
James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
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