NEW YORK (Mainichi) — “No place in Kabul is safe for all interpreters like me that are left behind in Afghanistan.” A week after the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, a former interpreter for U.S. forces in Afghanistan is in hiding for fear of the Taliban’s retaliatory executions. The Taliban have killed — beheaded — some of his former colleagues in the past. He said he wants to escape the country with his family, but if the Taliban find him, he will likely be killed too.
“This morning, I’ve changed my location due to the security situation in Afghanistan,” said Zaki Adaa (an alias), 32. His face on the screen looked tired and worn as he answered the Mainichi Shimbun’s questions via video call on Aug. 20. The Taliban began to search for American allies in his neighborhood on the 17th, two days after the fall of Kabul. “For the Taliban guys… we are (their number one) enemy,” said Adaa. As soon as he realized they were searching for him, he left everything behind and escaped to his relatives with his family. Three days later, he moved to another relative’s place, and is staying inside.
His brother, who worked as an interpreter for Polish forces, is hiding with him. Adaa burned everything that proves his connection to the Americans: his ID cards, military uniform, and any relevant documents. Some of his neighbors know about his interpreter experience, and there are Taliban collaborators, too, he said. “This is the only way to be in a safe place,” Adaa continued. “For right now, I am lucky. But for tomorrow and the (next) day… I don’t know when they will come and arrest me.”
After finishing high school and obtaining a certificate for English interpretation, Adaa worked alongside American forces in northern and southern Afghanistan for three years starting in 2010. Throughout this time, the Taliban hunted and executed several of his interpreter colleagues and friends. One of their families received a letter from the Taliban that outlined how they “cut his head (off) for supporting Americans.”
Adaa said the Taliban are “the enemy of humans,” and added that if they arrest him, “they will move me outside of my house and cut off my head.”
In 2015, with the recommendation of his former supervisor, Adaa applied for the Special Immigration Visa, or SIV, a U.S. visa program for Afghan translators and interpreters who helped U.S. forces in the country. He submitted applications for his entire family of 13. However, with the enormous amount of paperwork and processing required, his visa has not yet been approved. No one seems to know his status. Even if he manages to obtain his credentials, getting to Kabul airport through the nearby Taliban checkpoints will be a high-risk journey.
“I will try to cover my face and wear some clothes like them,” Adaa said.
In a press conference last week, the Taliban offered “amnesty” and said that they will not retaliate against American allies in Afghanistan. But Adaa does not believe their words. “I will never trust them. … They do not want to (make) this country a safe country for us,” he said. He has seen it with his own eyes. “I’ve got a lot of experience,” Adaa said.
“For right now, I would like to …get out from this country,” Adaa said. “I don’t care (which) third country, I don’t care about that. For right now, I just want to save my life along with my family’s.”
(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Sumi, New York Bureau. Additional reporting by Erika Wakabayashi)