An Afghan interpreter who was subjected to retribution from the Taliban for his work with American troops has been granted U.S. asylum after years of delays by the Obama administration.
The Washington Free Beacon first reported on the case of Mohammad, a young Afghan interpreter whose father was allegedly killed and three-year-old brother kidnapped by insurgents, last October.
Mohammad, nicknamed “Yoda” by the Marines he served with, had allegedly been shot twice and hit with an IED while working as an interpreter. He waited over three years for his visa application to be approved, despite concerns about his safety and lobbying by Marines who served with him.
Marine Corps Capt. Adrian Kinsella, who led a platoon that worked with Mohammad in 2010, said in an email that the interpreter was scheduled to arrive in San Francisco Monday afternoon.
“This homecoming is long overdue,” wrote Kinsella, who advocated for Mohammad in his capacity as a private citizen. “Mohammad and I are indebted to all of you for your ideas, patience, and constant support over the past three years. One of the most amazing things about this struggle has been how many people across the country stepped up to help one man.”
The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which did not officially represent Mohammad but helped assist his case, said it was “thrilled” to hear about the homecoming.
“It’s hard to imagine an experience more moving than seeing an interpreter reunited with the service member who fought in battle with him,” said spokesperson Katherine Reisner. “It’s distressing the struggle that Adrian and Mohammad had to undertake together to get Mohammad here, and hopefully the process will improve so that really tremendous efforts like that don’t need to be taken for each individual case.”
Mohammad’s father was reportedly abducted, tortured, and killed by the Taliban in 2009. Three years later, kidnappers demanded $35,000 in exchange for his abducted three-year-old brother, leaving a ransom note that threatened Mohammad for being a “friend of the Americans.”
Despite the threats to him and his family, Mohammad’s visa application, like the applications of thousands of other Afghan interpreters, remained stuck in the bureaucratic limbo of the U.S. State Department.
Kinsella voiced his frustrations with the visa process in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) last September.
“I have found the paperwork and frustration involved in this process to often rise to a Kafkaesque level,” Kinsella wrote. “How could someone like Mohammad successfully navigate such a process on his own, much less without such a determined sponsor? On more strategic lines, how can America attract and retain interpreters of his caliber in the future when we do not fulfill our end of the bargain now?”
Congress has authorized 1,500 visas to Afghan interpreters and their families each year, but only a small percentage have been granted by the State Department. The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies estimates that as many as 7,000 Afghan applicants are stuck in the backlog.
The Free Beacon previously reported on Hafez, an interpreter who helped Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer rescue wounded soldiers during the Battle of Ganjgal, whose visa application was delayed for over three years.
Janis Shinwari, an interpreter who helped save the life of Purple Heart recipient 1st Lt. Matt Zeller, also waited years for application approval.
Reisner said new reforms in the “National Defense Authorization Act” and omnibus appropriations bill will help streamline the process and create more transparency.
The reforms include new requirements for the State Department to report how many applications are under consideration, naming senior coordinators at relevant agencies who would put a public face on the program, and deadlines on the application process.