Out of the tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to leave their homeland following the Taliban’s takeover are thousands of former translators and their families.
One former translator for U.S. troops now in San Diego told NBC 7 he’s been in contact with former colleagues stuck in Kabul and fighting for their freedom.
He did not want to be interviewed on camera and only wanted to be identified in this story by the name ‘Mohammad’ out of fear of retribution by the Taliban on the family he had to leave behind in Afghanistan.
“I'm actually very worried about them…I always pray for them to be safe and to somehow come out of Afghanistan,” he said.
Mohammad said the process to get to the Kabul airport for his former colleagues, some of them prepared with Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, documents is nearly impossible.
“They have to pass the Taliban checkpoints to go to the airport and around the gates,” he said. “They have everything, some of them even have the Visas, but they cannot enter the airport because of the crowds outside the airport and near to the gates.”
Mohammad told NBC 7 the SIV documents serving as former translators’ tickets to freedom are also proof of what the Taliban considers crimes punishable by death.
“It's very dangerous for the allies that are left behind right now in Afghanistan,” he said. “Definitely they will be cut by the Taliban…they will be somehow murdered.”
His former colleagues are among the tens of thousands of panicked Afghans descending on Kabul’s airport – in an evacuation effort that’s become anything but orderly – as crowds swell around concrete barriers and soldiers struggle to maintain calm. At least seven have died in the crush of people over the last eight days.
The Pentagon has ordered six U.S. commercial airlines to help move evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan.
Mohammad helped U.S. troops for over two years as a translator assessing Afghanistan’s prison system.
“U.S.-funded projects were implemented inside the prisons,” he said. “It was our job, our duty, to go inside the prisons to conduct interviews with the inmates.”
He told NBC 7 the inmates he spoke with have been released since the Taliban’s takeover.
“All these people are now free. They are everywhere in Afghanistan right now. So, if I couldn't come to the United States, they will find me, and definitely they will find my colleagues in Afghanistan,” he said. “The Taliban is actually working to find out about the families of the people who left Afghanistan or not.”
Mohammad said that's why he's scared for the family he had to leave behind because they didn’t meet the SIV program’s requirements.
“Immediate family, like wives and sons and daughters under the age of 21, which are unmarried -- these are the people who can come with the principle applicant,” he said. “It's not applicable to all families.”
That's why he's asked his family for a favor -- one he said he hopes will save their lives.
“I asked them to through the social media…and check everything that is related to me,” he said. “The situation is really dangerous there.”
President Biden has pledged to help those who supported U.S. troops leave Afghanistan and said there are ongoing discussions about whether to extend the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops in order to do that.
There are more than 18,000 applicants for the SIV program waiting for processing, and thousands more who may have worked with the US government but aren’t eligible for the program.
The nonprofit No One Left Behind says more than 300 interpreters and family members have been killed because of their ties to the United States.