8News: Virginia veterans concerned for wartime partners as US evacuates Afghan translators


As U.S. troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, veterans from Virginia credit Afghan translators with saving American lives. Now their comrades face the possibility of being killed by the Taliban.

U.S. troops are set to leave the war-torn country by the end of August, weeks before President Biden’s initial target of September 11. However, the fate of thousands of Afghan nationals who aided troops remains at risk.

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Smith of Henrico said translators faced threats from the Taliban in real-time while helping Americans on missions. He said translators received “night letters” from the Taliban; messages tied to rocks, and thrown into compounds where translators were sleeping.

“We’re going to kill your family, we’re going to kill you. You’re not gonna make it alive,” Smith said the notes read.

A veteran of the armed services for over twenty years, deployed to Afghanistan for one year in 2004, Smith acknowledged more American lives would have been lost if it weren’t for the work, and trust instilled between U.S. troops and translators.

As the Taliban claims to now control 85 percent of Afghan territory, that threat is more apparent for people who sided with the United States.

“Our hearts bleed for them because that’s our brothers and sisters,” Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Jon Hernandez of Colonial Heights said.

“That’s our family that’s in harms way, too.”

Hernandez said he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 after the U.S. Army sought additional troops at Bagram Air Force.

Before tasked to repair mechanical equipment for reconstruction missions, Hernandez said he met an Afghan translator while training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

“Go practice your Dadi, go practice your Pashto, you know?” he said of the encouraging words the translator had for American troops, learning languages they would encounter while deployed.

“We were doing practice missions, he was alongside us,” Hernandez said.

8News opted not to share the name of the translator for their safety.

Specific plans to evacuate translators remain unknown, including how and if Afghans not already in the pipeline for immigration visas will leave.

Among the logistical hurdles the U.S. government will have to tackle: safe transport to limited airports, a ticking clock and keeping Afghan allies out of the limelight.

Leading up to the Biden administration’s formal announcement to evacuate translators, members of Congress pushed for the move, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), a former CIA case officer.

“Much of that advocacy [to issue temporary immigration visas] has actually come from Vietnam veterans who recognize that we haven’t done all that we should’ve done at the end of that conflict, and have advocated for us to get it right this time,” Spanberger said.

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