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Afghan interpreter who saved US soldier gets long-awaited visa

Zeller and Shinwari.jpg

Matt Zeller (l.) credits Janis Shinwari (r.) with saving his life in Afghanistan.Matt Zeller/Change.org

The Afghan interpreter credited with saving an Army intelligence officer only to become a target of the Taliban, has been granted a visa and could come to the United States as soon as next month.

Janis Shinwari, whose cause was embraced by Medal of Honor winner and U.S. Marine Dakota Meyer, along with more than 100,000 people who signed a petition at Change.org, saved Army Officer Matt Zeller in a 2008 firefight with insurgents, according to Zeller. The grateful Zeller has been aggressively lobbying for a visa for Shinwari for nearly two years, since Shinwari, 35, began getting death threats. On Monday, the pair spoke by phone after learning the State Department had finally processed the paperwork.

"Janis saved my life in Afghanistan."

- Former Army Intelligence Officer Matt Zeller

"Janis gave me the news a short while ago via Facebook chat -- and then I called him," Zeller told FoxNews.com. "It was very emotional. I don't think I've ever heard him that happy. He started telling me about how excited he is and that he expects to have flights and housing arranged by IOM (the organization that handles that aspect of it) within 30-40 days.

"We started talking about how our kids (I have a daughter about the same age as his youngest) will grow up together and be friends," Zeller added. "I still can't quite wrap my head around the fact that in a few weeks I'll be able to talk to him in person

Shinwari applied to move to the U.S. in 2011 under a special immigration program begun in 2009 for people who helped U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The program, designated to help interpreters and other allies from the Iraq war, expires at the end of this month absent an extension. The Afghan version would go away in September 2014 without a new law.

Zeller started the campaign on Change.org recently, drawing not only thousands of signatures, but hundreds of emphatic posts, as well.

"Mr. Shinwari risked his life to save the lives of Americans," wrote one signer, Harlee Cohn-Mahmet, of Plantation, Fla. "Now it IS OUR DUTY to save his life as well! Issue his visa as well as visas for all the others who risked their lives to save ours!!!! Please! Do it now!"

Veterans believe thousands of applications for the visas are stuck in bureaucratic limbo, without advocates as fierce as Zeller. The former Army soldier said helping those who risked their lives to help U.S. forces is a matter of conscience.

"Janis saved my life in Afghanistan," Zeller wrote. "When I heard he was also at risk, I had to do something. I’m so relieved that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the U.S. State Department got our message and that so many people across the country joined me in standing with Janis.

“We've saved Janis' world and for that I will be forever in your debt," he said. "You have my and Janis' unending thanks.”

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