Afghan translator ‘deeply hurt’ by US withdrawal, fears retribution against family

"We're deeply hurt... the country's going towards [an] uncertain future."

August 21, 2021, 11:18 AM

Years ago, Naqibullah had assisted the U.S. Marine Corps as a translator in Afghanistan and has since started a new life in the U.S. However, his parents and siblings remain in Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the country this weekend.

Naqibullah will be referred to only by his first name for this report. As of Wednesday, half a world away from his parents, brothers and sisters, he said he’s waiting for word from his family as they hide in their home.

“I've talked to them a couple of hours ago… They had fears and concerns about what's going to happen next,” he told ABC News. “I have a fear that one day they're going to go into our house and search for … my family to be assassinated.”

‘We're deeply hurt’

As the U.S. prepared to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, bringing an end to the two-decade war, the Taliban seized power in a matter of days, taking over all of the country's major cities.

PHOTO: People trying to flee the country gathered at the entrance gates to the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 18, 2021.
People trying to flee the country gathered at the entrance gates to the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 18, 2021.
Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times via Redux

“I've been in touch with veterans that serve and everybody [is] just so nervous … the reaction is that we're deeply hurt, we're deeply upset about it. And the country's going towards [an] uncertain future,” Naqibullah told ABC News in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We don't know what's going to happen to those people who work for the government. But right now, they're, they're locked in their houses, they don't know about tomorrow, what's going to happen to them?”

He said that he and his veteran friends are in disbelief that the Taliban took over Afghanistan so quickly last week.

“How many people, how many years, [how many] heroes lost their lives there? What would be the answer to those hurt?” he said.

Remembering Taliban rule

Naqibullah was born and raised in Afghanistan and remembers living under Taliban rule in the 1990s.

“I remember when they came for us and took over the country,” he said.

He said he remembers the Taliban going door-to-door targeting supporters of the government and imposing “a lot of restrictions” on the daily lives of the people -- from rules that women and girls must mostly be confined to the home, to dress codes for both men and women.

After the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 terror attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the use of force against those responsible for the attacks. This joint resolution would later be cited by his administration as legal rationale for its decision to take sweeping measures to combat terrorism including invading Afghanistan in October 2001.

Learning English was not allowed in school under Taliban rule, but “when the Americans took over … there were a lot of private schools that were teaching English,” Naquibullah said, and this is how he was able to learn English.

Joining the U.S. armed forces

Naqibullah speaks both Pashto and Dari -- the most widely spoken languages in Afghanistan, so when he graduated high school in 2007 at 16 years old, he decided to work with the U.S. military in Afghanistan as an interpreter and translator.

PHOTO: U.S. Army soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division, patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport in support of Operation Allies Refuge, Aug.17, 2021, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
U.S. Army soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division, patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport in support of Operation Allies Refuge, Aug.17, 2021, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
U.S. Air Force/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire

“I thought about it that you know [working] with them would benefit, not just myself, my family, would benefit the entire nation,” he said, pointing to opening schools, reconstruction efforts, training Afghan forces and setting up a new government.

Describing the first time he experienced combat, Naqibullah said that hearing the voices of the Taliban fighters planning to attack and vowing to capture American forces was “demoralizing.”

“Every moment that I was listening to their voices was kind of making me so scared and the fear was raising,” he said. “The morale of the soldier in the U.S. Marines [was] very high, they will keep fighting, you know, they'll keep pushing forward towards them, but since I was a person knowing their languages … that kind of made me demoralized since it was my first time and I started like almost crying.”

But soon, Naqibullah was encouraged and empowered by the successes of the U.S. as they gained ground against the Taliban.

He worked for the Marines in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2013. After spending a few years on the frontlines, in 2010 he was transferred to Kabul to help train the Afghan army.

A few years ago, Naqibullah moved to the U.S. and became a citizen in 2019.

Naqibullah said he never expected to be in a situation where the Taliban would retake Afghanistan in just over a week.

“Nobody was ready for that… The entire country would collapse into the hands of the Taliban,” he said. “We don't know what's going to happen, whether the past 20 years [were of] achievement ... or are we going ... back to the 1990s or what's going to happen?”

He says he pleaded with the U.S. government to help Afghans like him, who helped the U.S. over the last two decades. A Pentagon official said yesterday 5,000 to 10,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, though authorities are unsure of the exact number. The number of Afghans who qualify for evacuation is also unclear, but authorities believe it numbers in the tens of thousands.

“It's been over 15 months that I applied for my dad to come over here to the U.S. but the case is still under process.” he added. “… I don't get the answer that I'm looking for,” he said, adding his message to the government is to help Afghan families immigrate to the U.S.

Hopes for a ‘bright future’

Now 31 years old and a father to four daughters, Naqibullah says he worries his mother and sisters won’t have the same freedoms his family is privileged to have in the U.S.

“At this point, I don't think I see a future for them to stay in Afghanistan,” he said. “I don't think my family will be saved if they remain in the country.”

As for his daughters, who are U.S. citizens, Naqibullah said that he wants them to have a “bright future” and choose their own paths in life.

“They have the right [to] choose what they're choosing for their future. I want them to go to school, to be educated to serve the country, to serve the nation, whether it's in the medical field or any field they choose to go through. I want them to be a contributor back to this country.”

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