89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ex-Military Interpreter Tries To Help His Family Flee Afghanistan: "They're in imminent danger"

Mohmmad Ismail served as an interpreter for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and like many who worked for the United States, he was threatened by the Taliban. He came here in 2013 on a special visa, but his family members then faced threats. Eventually they followed him to New Mexico, where he works with children on refugee status for Albuquerque Public Schools. Now the Taliban are targeting his relatives who are still in Afghanistan and he is asking New Mexico politicians for help to get them out.


MOHAMMAD ISMAIL: We have the highest bounty on our head, if they would have taken out an interpreter, they would have messed up the whole communication between both parties, so Taliban would first target interpreters. And after that go after the armed forces, National Army and all that. When I signed up for this, I signed up without thinking about the consequences. Now, I do feel this responsibility on my shoulder, when my family is reaching out to me for help or support, because they have also been involved in some way, had association with the US Armed Forces. And also because they are related to me. That's why they are under threat right now.

KUNM: And without interpreters like you who have a linguistic talent, what would happen during this war?

ISMAIL: They would have not been able to do any mission, any operation In Afghanistan.

KUNM: You were able to get a special visa to come here for your safety, but your family members didn't

ISMAIL: Correct. But my family was also somehow involved with the U.S. Armed Forces. My aunt who was a vendor selling goods inside a U.S. Armed Forces base, my parents did the same thing. So when I was going inside detention facility cells with the prisoners, they were telling me that 'You're an infidel, we will kill you. First we will kill your family will kill your relatives, and we will kill your entire community.' In 2013, when I got here, the threat went to my parents, my siblings, they went after them. And luckily, somehow, they flee the country. And in 2016, they came to (the) U.S.. Now they (the Taliban) are going after my relatives.

KUNM: So there are tens of thousands of people who are trying to leave, but it sounds like your family is not even leaving their house.

ISMAIL: Every day when we talk to each other somehow, when we make connections, we speak and say goodbye like it's our last. It's that dire of a situation right now. And I'm pleading for help.

KUNM: And you've said you've been talking to politicians. Tell me who you've been talking to you and what you've been asking.

ISMAIL: (U.S. Representative) Melanie Stansbury and Senator (Martin) Heinrich, Senator (Ben Rey) Lujan.  I've been talking to them constantly. I've sent them a list of immediate family members of not just me, there are other Afghans who have served the government the same way I did. We have made a list of 107 people and we have sent it to them.

KUNM: 107 people that are connected to people who are now living in New Mexico,

ISMAIL: In Albuquerque, correct, they all have U.S. ties, there's a lot of children. And this starts from a pregnant woman to a one-year-old, three-year-old to 60 years old, and they're in danger, imminent danger, we will support them to resettle. They will not be a burden on the government or our state.

KUNM: And what answer have you gotten? 

ISMAIL:  Oh, so far, they have told me that they have sent a list to the Department of State and Department of Defense. And they are waiting for an answer.

KUNM: This rapid and chaotic pull out of the United States military in Afghanistan and leaving behind people who have been allies, not only at this moment, but in the past several years. How do you think all of this impacts future relationships in countries where U.S. forces need interpreters and need help from locals?

ISMAIL: Experience teaches all. So they should go back, look into this and learn what they have done wrong, come up with a better planning. In this past 20 years in this Afghanistan war, more Afghans have participated and serve than the U.S. armed forces. So we plead to the Biden administration, to please please, please follow up. Support us. We were there when you needed us. Now it's our time and give them a second chance. They deserve better.

KUNM: Mohammad Ismail, thank you so much for talking to me. And I hope there is a resolution for your family, for the other families that are connected to people here in Albuquerque and for all of the people of Afghanistan right now.

ISMAIL: Thank you for reaching out and thank you for sharing the awareness and thank you for supporting my story.

To find out more see Mohammad Ismail's links here or contact reporter Yasmin Khan at yasminkhan@kunm.org or Mohammad at USAhelpafg@gmail.com.


Yasmin Khan covers worker's rights in New Mexico, with a focus on Spanish-speaking residents. She is finishing her Ph.D. in human geography and women & gender studies at the University of Toronto where she studies refugee and humanitarian aid dynamics in Bangladesh. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from UNM. Yasmin was director of The Americas Program, an online U.S. foreign policy magazine based in Mexico City, and was a freelance journalist in Bolivia. She covered culture, immigration, and higher education for the Santa Fe New Mexican and city news for the Albuquerque Journal.
Related Content