The Afghan interpreter who saved the life of an Army intelligence officer and became a target of the Taliban for his trouble has finally arrived in the U.S. to start a new life, after a long battle to win a special visa.
Janis Shinwari arrived at Reagan National Airport in Washington late Tuesday night, where he was heartily greeted by Matthew Zeller, the Army soldier who says he owes his life to Shinwari. Zeller campaigned tirelessly for a special visa reserved for translators who put their lives on the line for U.S. military personnel and set up an online petition which garnered over 110,000 signatures. The visa was finally approved last month, but then mysteriously pulled, according to Zeller.
Shinwari, 36, told FoxNews.com he, his wife and their two children are eager to start a new life in the U.S., especially after Shinwari spent the last several months in hiding after he became known for helping the U.S. military.
"I'm feeling very happy," Shinwari said. "Now we are in the U.S. and we will have a good life. No fear of the Taliban. No fear of sending my children to school."
“He ... is thrilled to finally start his new and very well-earned life in the U.S.”
- Matthew Zeller, soldier saved by Afghan interpreter Janis Shinwari
Zeller, who greeted Shinwari at the airport with the Arabic salutation "Assam alaikum,” said he'll be close to his friend and help him adjust. Shinwari is looking for work as a translator.
“He [Shinwari] will live in Alexandria [Virginia], 10 minutes from me, and is thrilled to finally start his new and very well-earned life in the U.S.,” Zeller said.
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. Shinwari was Zeller’s interpreter while he was stationed near Kabul and was saved by him during the war.
The two met in 2007. A year later, Zeller was on patrol in the Ghazni Province when he and his unit were ambushed by the Taliban. Shinwari was back at the base and went with a team to aid the men, even though it wasn’t his job. Armed with a rifle, he was on the front lines assisting Zeller’s unit when an armed Taliban fighter sneaked up on Zeller. Shinwari shot the enemy before he could harm Zeller, and the two formed a brotherly bond from that point on, Zeller said.
Zeller, 31, credits media pressure from Fox News and other outlets after Shinwari’s visa was revoked with pressuring the U.S. Embassy to fast-track the translator’s application. Under the program, applicants are carefully vetted to ensure they will not work against U.S. interests once in America.
“The U.S. government ended up polygraphing him twice in Kabul -- he passed with flying colors each time,” Zeller said.
While he was waiting to emigrate, Shinwari and his family had to move constantly as Taliban teams hunted them, Zeller said.
Shinwari and his family arrived with little money, and Zeller has set up a website where the public can make contributions to help them. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is arranging his resettlement and housing and the Truman National Security Project will help the family to furnish their new home through donations of furniture, clothing and other items.
In the short period between his visa being greenlighted and then pulled for further review, Shinwari had left his job as a translator and sold nearly all of his possessions. Like most translators, he had become a potential target from Taliban militants.
“I’m afraid I’ll be in serious trouble,” he said to FoxNews.com back in September.” The interpreter village was really the only safe place. I have nowhere to hide.”
Both Shinwari and Zeller have been invited to present their story in person to Congress next week and will discuss the visa program, how it should be reformed and fixed, and what it means to serve as an interpreter of the U.S. military at war.
Zeller is also continuing his online campaign it bring other interpreters to the U.S.
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych