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Afghan Interpreter Was So Close To Fleeing Afghanistan And Then Kabul Fell

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People seeking to leave Afghanistan include a man we'll refer to as Khan (ph). He worked as an interpreter for U.S. troops in the mid-2000s and with aid agencies more recently. He lives in Kandahar, which is the major city in southern Afghanistan. He's been seeking a visa to the United States ever since 2014. He finally received a preliminary approval, but was summoned for an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul - an interview in July of this year. We now know that scheduled interview was in one of the last moments of normal life in Kabul. A COVID outbreak in the U.S. Embassy delayed the interview. It was rescheduled for August 11, last week.

KHAN: We had an interview. I had my family with me. And I waited, like, for over seven, eight days at the hotel. And then, like, I couldn't afford staying there for long days, many days. So I came back to Kandahar. And it was the time that the capital, Kabul, was collapsed to the hands of Taliban. And now I'm just waiting for an email or waiting for a call to say that now Kabul back, so you and your family get a call. I have to drive back to Kabul and see if I can get a chance.

INSKEEP: This is painful to hear because you are telling me that you were approved for a visa to come to the United States.

KHAN: Yes.

INSKEEP: You were just waiting on some paperwork.

KHAN: Yes.

INSKEEP: You were in Kabul...

KHAN: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Just as the United States began an evacuation from the Kabul airport, and you've had to leave and drive across the country to wait for an email from the U.S. Embassy.

KHAN: Yes. Like, it's so horrible. The city was closed. Everything was closed. And I couldn't wait. I had to come back to Kandahar. There was no more flights. So I had to take a taxi from Kabul to Kandahar.

INSKEEP: What was that drive like?

KHAN: There were different checkpoints. I was stopped and asked, what are you doing? Where are you going? I had my passports and other documents which I gave to the driver. He hide somewhere. He said, you don't have to worry. I will keep it for you. So they checked all the bags and everything. And I was lucky they didn't find anything. If they could find one paper, me, I would be done - no more.

INSKEEP: What is life like in Kandahar now? You were - you left the city, and it was in control of the old government, and came back to the city, and it was in control of the Taliban.

KHAN: Yes. It's quite different. There are people who are happy with the security issue that there are no more blast bombs. The people don't get shot. Like, I have seen many, many events that there is someone who is just right in front of you shot and killed. I have seen many of my friends that got killed. And I came back to an area where, like, normal people there say, oh, now we don't have these killings and bomb blasts. And at least now they are now feeling safe. But it's a horrible situation, especially for those who worked for U.S. and their allies.

INSKEEP: I'd like people to know Kandahar is a pretty good-sized city, several hundred thousand people. Are there a lot of Taliban fighters that you see on the streets right now?

KHAN: Yes. Yes. There are many, many. They patrol around. They have checkpoints to (unintelligible). They think that you have something with you, they then stop you and ask for something.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

INSKEEP: At that point, the line to Kandahar went dead. A few minutes later, we managed to reach Khan again. And he said he would like to ask me a question.

KHAN: What do you think? Should we blame Taliban for killing such interpreters?

INSKEEP: He said it makes sense that the Taliban would target people like him.

KHAN: We kill them for over 20 years. I personally, when I was at combat missions, I personally was with the U.S. Army who killed Taliban - I personally. I was witnessed. And then we were - policy was we handed over the government. We collapsed the Afghan government. We destroyed the 300,000 Afghan National Army. And then we are begging the Taliban not to touch us. So logically thinking, why should we blame others of having a - like, we don't have plan.

INSKEEP: You're saying you don't blame the Taliban for wanting to kill people like you.

KHAN: Yes.

INSKEEP: You blame the United States and the old government for not making plans to protect you.

KHAN: Exactly. We had no plan at all. You know what is going on in front of this Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport?

INSKEEP: Yes, we've been following the news.

KHAN: Yeah. There are thousands of thousands of people. We cannot handle even this. I have three babies. The younger one is 2 years and 6 months. The older one is 6 years. And you have these children with you. And they're crossing thousands of people where the crowdest (ph) place you cannot even have one step farther. You have to wait hours and hours or days. And then we are blaming others why they are doing this, why they are killing people, why they are not allowing us to have our national flag - I mean, to speak frankly and logically, we have to - this is not their - I mean, we kill them for years. We were hunting them for years. And then we had no plans.

INSKEEP: Do you feel betrayed?

KHAN: Yes. Honestly, yes.

INSKEEP: Do you still have hope that you and your family will get out?

KHAN: Yes. I hope one day. Because what else can I do? I'm still supportive. I'm still helpful to the U.S. government who helped my country for almost 20 years. I'm still honest, loyal, a best friend I will be for them.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Khan, I hope to see you in America sometime.

KHAN: Hope so. Hope so. And then one day, I hope we will see face-to-face. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.