An Afghan interpreter who helped rescue then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2008 when his helicopter made an emergency landing in Afghanistan has escaped from the country, the Wall Street Journal reported.
After weeks in hiding, Aman Khalili said he and his family left Afghanistan last week, crossing the border into Pakistan.
“Aman helped keep me and other Americans safe while we were fighting in Afghanistan, and we wanted to return the favor,” said Brian Genthe, a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient with the Arizona National Guard who worked with Khalili in Afghanistan.
“He’s a blessing.”
U.S. veterans worked with former Afghan soldiers and well-placed Pakistani allies to carry out a clandestine operation to drive Khalili and his family more than 600 miles across Afghanistan and get them to Pakistan, according to those involved in the effort, the Journal reported.
In 2008, Khalili was part of a rescue team sent to help Biden and fellow Sens. John Kerry. D-Mass., and Chuck Hagel, R., Neb. Two helicopters transporting them had been forced by a blinding snowstorm to land in an Afghan valley vulnerable to a Taliban attack.
Biden and many veterans groups mobilized to help Khalili and family leave Afghanistan.
But there are still tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans hiding in their country and looking for a way to get out.
The U.S. and a collection of Afghanistan war veterans, aid groups and political leaders around the world have had some success in helping those looking to leave since the U.S. forces left at the end of August. The Taliban has allowed a handful of planes to leave since the U.S. exit, but most Afghans without passports have been unable to fly. Some groups have turned their attention to getting people out across the land borders.
The effort to rescue Khalili, who had worked as a translator for various contractors, began in earnest in early August, when he begged U.S. veterans with whom he had served for help getting out of the country, the Journal reported.
Khalili went to Kabul’s airport to try get on the last flights out of Afghanistan, but he said he was turned away by U.S. soldiers at the gates who told him he could get inside, but his family members couldn’t.
As the last American forces flew out of Afghanistan, Khalili spoke to the Journal and made a direct appeal to Biden for help.
“Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family,” he said. “Don’t forget me here.”
The biggest obstacle was that Mr. Khalili’s wife and four of his five children didn’t have Afghan passports, which the Taliban said were required to leave the country. During weeks of hiding, Khalili grew anxious as word spread that Taliban forces were searching homes across Kabul for people like him who worked with the U.S.
On Oct. 5, after weeks of disappointment, Khalili and his family finally made it out of Afghanistan.
Some veterans who worked to rescue Khalili said the Biden administration hadn’t done enough to help the Afghan interpreter and countless others still asking the U.S. for help.
U.S. officials said their efforts to help Khalili and others like him were constrained by Taliban restrictions on who could leave Afghanistan.
Biden was repeatedly briefed on Khalili’s case, said a White House official.
Khalili said he was thankful to everyone, including the Arizona veterans, who worked to get him and his family to safety.
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