A U.S. Army veteran and Afghan native has been secretly working inside Afghanistan once again to help escort vulnerable civilians wanted by the Taliban to safety across the border to Pakistan, Fox News reported Friday.
The veteran, who spoke with Fox News on condition of anonymity, described his efforts in a televised interview with the network from Islamabad, Pakistan. The veteran had his face obscured for the duration of the interview.
The unnamed veteran said he traveled to Pakistan about a month ago and then illegally crossed from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where he has since gone to work helping people targeted by the Taliban escape the country. The veteran said he has brought at least 30 at-risk people over the Pakistan border.
“They say on the news there is no U.S. soldier in Afghanistan,” the veteran, who identified described himself as former staff sergeant said. “But I’m here, and I’ll help as long as it takes.”
The veteran said he originally came to Afghanistan to help evacuate his own family. “I couldn’t do so. But I’ve helped plenty of other people and it feels good getting them out, saving them from the Taliban. It feels good.”
The veteran said he has gone in and out of Afghanistan several times, and has helped more people evacuate with each crossing. He said he has evacuated people from several minority groups that have been targeted by the Taliban, including Christians and the predominantly Shia Muslim minority Hazaras. He also said he has helped people with pending special immigrant visa (SIV) applications.
“You guys just went to visit my family, to help my mom and dad,” one person said in a video thanking the veteran for his efforts. The person, who also had his face obscured, said, “I greatly appreciate that man. I just want to thank you. You’re doing a risky job. You’re doing a risky job, but still, you’re the man, bro.”
While returning from a trip to help evacuate a husband and wife couple who had recently converted to Catholicism, the veteran described being caught by Taliban members and being whipped seven times.
“They lashed me on my back,” the veteran said. “I told them I was a cigarette smuggler and that’s why I think it was only seven times. But had they known I had actually just helped a Catholic family get out, it would have been worse. Far worse.”
The veteran said he came to the U.S. just a few days before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was still in the practice of wearing his traditional Afghan clothes when the attacks occurred. The veteran said he finished high school and then joined the Army. During his time in the Army, the veteran suffered a traumatic brain injury and was discharged.
The veteran said his family has also been targeted since he joined the Army and served in Afghanistan. After the Taliban took over Kabul, fighters entered his family’s home and found a picture of him in his uniform. The veteran said his family remains in hiding in safe houses since the Taliban takeover.
“I had no choice but to come here myself after I learned that there was an ambush on my family’s house once more,” the veteran said. “I still haven’t heard anything from our government as far as any sort of assistance.”
“I pleaded for help from the U.S. government,” the veteran added. “I did not receive any.”
The veteran said his niece, who is a journalist and had been an outspoken critic of the Taliban before their takeover, was also walked out of her newsroom in Kabul at gunpoint. The journalist previously told Fox News she was barred from returning to the newsroom because she is a woman. She also said she has been in hiding out of fear that the Taliban will begin targeting female journalists.
The veteran said getting his family to Pakistan isn’t a realistic option at this time because the family of six would have to pass through about 30 Taliban checkpoints between the Kabul area and the Pakistan border crossing. The veteran said he instead helped evacuate his family to another country altogether, but that if they don’t secure a passage out of the country they’re in, they will be deported back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.