Operation Afghanistan: Interpreters risk their own lives for a better one

Published: Feb. 7, 2018 at 5:34 PM AKST
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The NATO Resolute Support mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces, a mission that wouldn't be possible without the help of local interpreters willing to risk their lives to serve their country.

"It's a very important," said a translator we're calling Bashir Ansari, which is not his real name. "As a linguist, I'm a bridge between the U.S. Army and the Afghan National Army, or ANA. As an interpreter I communicate between them."

Every day except for Friday, the Muslim holy day, translators accompany advisors from JBER's 4-25 as they meet with their counterparts from the ANA.

"If I don't go to the mission to interpret the U.S. Army's advice to the ANA guys, there will be no mission," said Ansari.

Ansari has been working for the U.S. Army for about five months. He says in order to take this job, he has to lie about what he does for a living and where he lives to everyone he knows, including his family.

Ansari says if anyone ever found out he was working for the U.S. military, or simply caught him wearing something associating him with the U.S. military, both he and potentially his family would be killed by the Taliban.

"If they knew I was working for the U.S. Army, they will absolutely kill me," said Ansari. "They don't ask who you are, they don't think about you, (or care) if you're human. They just see if you're a linguist, interpreter, even a shopkeeper with the United States soldiers. Whenever they catch you, they kill you."

That's a reality Ansari learned firsthand at 17 years old, when he and a friend first applied to be a linguist with the U.S. military. His friend got hired and was sent to Kandahar, but Ansari was turned down because he wasn't yet 18.

"After two weeks, my friend, they brought their dead body to Kabul," he said. "The Taliban shot his neck and he was killed. It was just two weeks in Kandahar City and they brought his dead body back to Kabul."

Despite seeing what happened to his friend, Ansari applied again, and is now working for the U.S. Army. It's a risk he says he's willing to take, in the effort to rid his country of Islamic extremism.

"For Afghanistan, we have to sacrifice our life," Ansari said. "I accept the risk of death. It is my dream to serve my country, my people. To get out the old mind(set) of the Taliban, where they teach youths radicalism and extremism."

It took Ansari about two and a half years to learn to read, write and speak English. He says with no native speakers to teach the proper pronunciation of words, he learned by watching movies and translating books from English to Dari.

Most of the interpreters working for the U.S. military are on two-year contracts, earning between $300 and $900 a month. Upon completion of their contract, linguists are able to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa, a program which allows up to 50 people annually, who have worked for the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan or Iraq, to be issued a visa to enter the United States.