Exclusive: Whistleblower Claims Many U.S. Interpreters Can't Speak Afghan Languages

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Daod Sultanzoy, a member of the Afghan parliament, told ABC News that he has encountered U.S. Army translators who lack a command of Pashto. The interpreters, he said, "play a very important role that can be positive or negative. And in this case, I've heard and I've seen occasions, that have been reported to me, it has caused the failures of some missions and also the ill-will of the Afghan communities in certain parts."

The Army acknowledged in a statement to ABC News that the change in Afghanistan strategy and the troop buildup over the past year has significantly increased the need for linguists and translators, and that demand has become "enormously challenging, but we continue to try to meet the commander's needs on the ground through use of both military and civilian contracted linguists."

A U.S. Army spokesman said in an emailed statement that the wide variation in languages and dialects makes translating difficult for even the most skilled linguists. As for the assertion that Mission Essential has permitted unskilled translators to embed with Army troops, officials said they could not comment, other than to say that "there is a military investigation underway into alleged fraud."

American veterans like Chase, who founded the advocacy group American Women Veterans, remain deeply concerned about the risks associated with unskilled translators on the battlefield.

Asked what she would say to executives at Mission Essential Personnel, Chase was unequivocal. "I would just ask yourself, 'If that was your daughter, or your son, or you yourself, would you want to work with these people? Would you want to go outside of the wire in Marja, in Helmand province, with an interpreter that doesn't really speak Pashto?' And if you can sleep at night after you think about that," she said, "then keep doing what you're doing."

Funk, a Vietnam-era veteran who is now serving with another contractor in Iraq, told ABC News he could not stomach sending what he believed to be unqualified translators into battle with American soldiers. He said that is why he resigned, and why he initiated the suit against his former employer.

The stakes, he said, could not be higher.

"If you're trying to win the hearts and minds of the population, it's a matter of communication," he said. "If you cannot communicate, if you cannot read and write, if you cannot do these things, you cannot win the war."

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