An interpreter who assisted in an effort to rescue then-Sen. Joe Biden and two other senators during their 2008 visit to Afghanistan, was left behind this week after the last U.S. troops packed up and left the country. Now the interpreter is calling on President Biden to save him and his family.
In a message directed to Biden published by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the interpreter — who asked only to be identified by the name Mohammed, while in hiding — called on Biden to return the favor. “Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family. Don’t forget me here.”
During a 2008 visit to Afghanistan, then-Sens. Biden (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) were aboard a pair of U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters traveling through a remote Afghan valley when they were forced to make an emergency landing due to a blinding snowstorm.
Mohammed, then a 36-year-old interpreter working with the U.S. Army, was part of the quick reaction force dispatched to evacuate the three U.S. senators.
While U.S. Army soldiers and private security team associated with the former private firm Blackwater monitored for any potential Taliban attacks, the helicopter crews sent out an urgent call for help.
Brian Genthe, who was serving at the time as a staff sergeant in the Arizona National Guard said his unit, working with the 82nd Airborne Division, comprised the quick reaction force that received the distress call at Bagram Air Field and jumped into action. Genthe said Mohammed also answered the call and jumped into one of the quick reaction force’s Humvees as they took off to retrieve the three senators.
After the senators were evacuated, Mohammed stayed out with troops guarding the helicopters until they could take flight once again. Genthe said Mohammed stood guard with Afghan soldiers on one side of the helicopters while members of the 82nd Airborne protected the other side. The interpreter used a bullhorn to warn awat curious locals who came too close. In total, Mohammed and his teammates stayed out there for 30 hours in freezing temperatures until the U.S. military could get the helicopters back in the air.
Biden alluded to his rescue in Afghanistan during a speech on the campaign trail in October 2008.
“If you want to know where al Qaeda lives, you want to know where [Osama] bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me,” Biden said, just months after his February rescue. “Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down…in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are.”
Mohammed was a trusted part of the team and was with U.S. troops through more than 100 firefights in a particularly dangerous valley region. Genthe said his soldiers trusted Mohammed so much they would sometimes give him a weapon to use if they came under attack in any particularly tough areas.
In recent months, as the U.S. has been withdrawing its military presence in Afghanistan, Mohammed has been trying to get through the paperwork to process a special immigrant visa (SIV) application.
“His selfless service to our military men and women is just the kind of service I wish more Americans displayed,” Lt. Col. Andrew R. Till wrote in June, in support of Mohammed’s SIV paperwork.
While he had the support of the soldiers he worked with, Genthe said Mohammed’s SIV application hit a wall after the defense contractor he worked for in Afghanistan lost the records he needed to complete his application.
Time ran out for Mohammed when the Taliban began rapidly capturing vast swathes of Afghanistan, and the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed on August 15. Mohammed was among thousands of Afghans who tried their luck at getting out on an evacuation flight in the two weeks that U.S. forces controlled the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Taliban-occupied Kabul. Mohammed attempted to go through the Kabul airport gates, but was turned back by U.S. forces tasked with providing security and processing through Americans and other nationals with valid paperwork.
Some of Mohammed’s former teammates tried to help him get through the Kabul airport gates in time.
“If you can only help one Afghan, choose [Mohammed],” Shawn O’Brien, an Army combat veteran who worked with Mohammed in Afghanistan in 2008, wrote to lawmakers and U.S. officials. “He earned it.”
After the last U.S. troops left on Tuesday, Mohammed spoke with the Wall Street Journal, sharing fears for his safety.
“I can’t leave my house,” he said. “I’m very scared.”
After a Wall Street Journal reporter read Mohammed’s message to the president on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “First, our message to him is, ‘Thank you for fighting by our side for the last 20 years. Thank you for the role you played in helping a number of my favorite people out of a snowstorm, and for all of the work you did.’”
Psaki then said the Biden administration is now focused on a “diplomatic phase” of efforts to evacuate Afghan allies and Americans still stranded in Afghanistan. Psaki said, “We will get you out, we will honor your service, and we’re committed to doing exactly that.”
In addition to Mohammed, his family, and other at-risk Afghan allies like them, the Biden administration estimates up to 200 Americans seeking evacuation were also left behind after the last U.S. troops left the country.