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Afghan Interpreter Begs US To Extend Withdrawal Deadline as Terrorists Strike Kabul Airport

'We will be targeted and beheaded'

Via Reuters
and • August 26, 2021 3:35 pm

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An Afghan translator is pleading for the Biden administration to extend the troop withdrawal deadline, as the White House deals with terror attacks that have left at least 12 U.S. service members dead and scrambles to extract thousands of Americans and allies targeted by the Taliban.

Army Captain John Bockmann, who worked with the translator, connected him to the Washington Free Beacon in order to draw attention to his plight. Basel, who requested the use of a pseudonym out of concern for his family's safety, served for two years as an interpreter at the Kandahar air base in Afghanistan. He is now desperately trying to evacuate his family from Afghanistan, fearing almost certain death if he is captured by the Taliban. He spent 13 hours a day at the Kabul airport with his wife and four children this week begging coalition soldiers to evacuate him, to no avail. Having given up on the airport, he went into hiding on Wednesday—hours before suicide bombers struck the airport.

"I am very, very scared and each moment is very, very terrible. My parents, they are looking at me crying and say I put my life and put my family [sic] life in danger," Basel told the Free Beacon in a phone interview. His children could be heard crying in the background.

Bockmann, who deployed twice as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and once as a physician assistant, said he grew close with Basel when they worked together at a military hospital in 2020. They have remained in contact throughout the drawdown and subsequent Taliban takeover of the country through WhatsApp—a messaging application that has proven a vital lifeline to those stranded in the war-torn region. The officer is now lobbying for Basel and his family to come to the United States.

"I know few Americans who are more pro-American than he is," Bockmann told the Free Beacon. "I told him that if given the opportunity, I would be proud to go back to get him."

Basel said his kids faced near-death experiences at the airport due to extreme heat, crowding, and the trampling of thousands of Afghans desperately trying to flee Taliban control. On Thursday, suicide bombers attacked the airport, as well as a Kabul hotel, killing at least 12 American troops, dozens of Afghans, and wounding more than 100.

President Joe Biden has committed to a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan by Tuesday, leaving little time for Basel and his family to leave the country safely. The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Thursday's attacks will affect the deadline.

"What I want to request from the U.S. government is to extend the time to be able to get those people who worked with coalition forces out of this country," Basel said. "Otherwise, there will be no more alive. We will die. We are in grave danger. We cannot do anything unless you help us."

Basel said the Taliban has set up several checkpoints surrounding the airport, making it extremely difficult for Afghans—especially those who worked with the U.S. military—to arrive safely at the airport. Without safe escort to the airport and because of a bureaucratic backlog in approving visas for translators, Basel thinks his chances of escape are dwindling. 

A State Department spokesman said the agency is "going to extraordinary lengths to facilitate safe passage for U.S. citizens and Afghans at risk" and is in the process of drafting contingency plans if Biden decides to extend U.S. presence in the country. He declined to discuss the specifics of the evacuation plan for individual Afghan and Americans trapped in the country, citing "operational security."

"We’re on track to complete our mission by August 31st provided the Taliban continue to cooperate and there are no disruptions to this effort," the agency said. "There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years and want to leave and have been unable to do so.  That effort will continue every day past August 31st."

The Taliban has claimed it would not seek revenge on those who worked with U.S. forces, but reports have surfaced of targeted killings of allies in the wake of the American withdrawal.  

"They say that we will forgive all these people and there is nothing to fear from them," Basel said. "In fact, they will target each one, and they will find all the documents, and we will be targeted and beheaded."

Basel applied for a visa in February after completing two years of service with the military. Bockmann has contacted the National Visa Center on behalf of Basel but has been unable to make progress to get him out of the country.

"I've gone from being frustrated, to heartbroken, to furious about his situation, mostly because we haven't heard anything about his application or evacuation status," Bockmann said. "And now I fear it's too late, even as we're scrambling to get him out. If he can't get out, I think the Taliban will find him and kill him. And that feels like a lead weight in my stomach."

Update Aug. 27 10:04 a.m.: This post has been updated with comment from the State Department.