The Abandoned

Afghan translator of Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer caught in bureaucratic limbo

Sgt. Dakota Meyer / AP
August 7, 2013

Four years ago, an Afghan translator known as "Hafez" charged into enemy fire to help U.S. Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer rescue wounded American servicemembers during one of the most famous battles in the Afghanistan war.

Meyer received the Medal of Honor for his courage in the battle of Ganjgal—the first living Marine to receive the honor since the Vietnam war.

But Meyer says his friend Hafez is still waiting to receive a U.S. visa he applied for years ago. The former translator remains in Afghanistan under daily threat from the Taliban while his application is caught in the bureaucratic limbo of the State Department.

"He stood next to me, by my side pretty much the entire time [during the Battle of Ganjgal]," Meyer, 25, said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon on Monday. "He helped me carry my guys out."

"If we can’t help get this guy back who sacrificed so much to bring these Americans home, I’m sure he’ll be killed," he said.

Hafez (a pseudonym to protect his identity) applied for a visa over three years ago, according to Bing West, the co-author of Meyer’s book Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordi­nary Battle in the Afghan War.

"The Taliban are looking for Hafez because he killed several of them in the Ganjigal fight," West told the Free Beacon.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, signed off on Hafez’s application. The visa was also green-lighted by U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul, said West. The application then went to the U.S. State Department’s visa department for "vetting," according to West, where it has remained ever since.

Letters of recommendation for Hafez have also been written by Lt. Col. Dan Yaroslaski, Lt. Col. Anthony J. Healy, Gy. Sgt. R. M. Garza, Maj. William Jelks, and Capt. Timothy Chrisman.

"Under the current broken system, a U.S. general in Afghanistan must certify each visa package for an interpreter. But the authority for approval rests in the States with up to six anonymous committees headed by State Department that conduct additional security checks," West said. "Their incentive is to never make a single mistake and allow in an Afghan who later commits any sort of crime. Thus while Congress has permitted 5,000 visas, State approves less than one hundred each year."

"Gen. Dunford, the head of our forces, has personally approved him. So have six commanders in the past four years," West added.

U.S. and Afghan troops were ambushed by Taliban fighters on the outskirts of the village of Ganjgal, in the Kunar Province on Sept. 8, 2009. Meyer, Hafez, and other U.S. and Afghan allies pushed through enemy fire, rescuing wounded comrades. Meyer fought his way to the front zone in an effort to save a four-man team that had been pinned down by the fight. The men had been killed. Meyer carried their bodies to a safe location. Six Americans and eight Afghan allies were killed in the battle.

Meyer received the Medal of Honor, and two others received the Navy Cross, for their actions that day.

Meyer recalled Hafez’s words before they rushed toward the fire.

"[Hafez] told me, ‘Dakota, it’s very bad out there.’" Meyer said. "I said, ‘But I gotta go back in and get my guys.’"

The Marine then asked for his translator’s help.

"[I said] ‘I really need you, will you go with me?’" said Meyer. "And he said, ‘If today is my day to die, then that’s it. I’ll go back with you.’"

Now Hafez, his wife, and two children are relying on Meyer for help. The two talk regularly. Meyer fears for his friend’s safety and livelihood.

Hafez emailed Meyer on Monday morning, saying the security situation in his region of Afghanistan is deteriorating.

"First of all I hop[e] you and your family are doing well, I know you and your friend [Bing West] are working hard on our visas," wrote Hafez. "[T]he reason I am bothering you the security situation where I am living geeing [sic] worse, and every night I am guarding to protect me self and my family. If you are getting upset it is OK, I will not bother you anymore. Wish you all the best have a nice time."

The 25-year-old Medal of Honor recipient told the Free Beacon that it is hard not to feel demoralized.

"It seems like—it seems we’ve tried everything," he said. "It seems like not anything’s going to happen, you know what I mean?"

However, he also said he, West, and others will continue to lobby for approval of Hafez's application.

"I’m not going to give up," Meyer said. "I’m trying to write a letter to the president right now."

The State Department has shown no sign of movement despite Meyer’s and West’s efforts, as well as several U.S. commanders who have sent letters supporting Hafez’s asylum application, according to West.

The State Department also rebuffed inquiries from the Free Beacon.

"I see that you called earlier regarding the visa case of an Afghan translator," spokesperson Katherine Pfaff emailed on Tuesday. "Section 222 (f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits us from disclosing details from individual visa cases."

Meyer said he will not stop working to help his friend, who he said never stopped working to help U.S. troops.

"It wasn’t just Ganjgal, it was everyday," said Meyer. "[Hafaz] showed up to be a team player, you know? He showed up because he cared. He showed up because he was passionate about his country. He showed up to help protect us, as Americans."

West said time is not on Hafaz’s side.

"Five men in a Humvee—one Medal of Honor; a second Medal in process, two Navy Crosses—and Hafez," said West.

"For four years, he has avoided assassination. But eventually his luck will run out. He risked everything to bring back four trapped Americans, and we have turned our back on him."

The withdrawal of most American forces from Afghanistan is slated to conclude by the end of 2014.