Thirteen years ago, Afghan interpreter Mohammed helped rescue then- Sen. Joe Biden and two other senators stranded in a remote Afghanistan valley after their helicopter was forced to land in a snowstorm. Now, Mohammed is asking President Biden to save him.
"Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family," Mohammed, who asked not to use his full name while in hiding, told The Wall Street Journal as the last Americans flew out of Kabul on Monday. "Don’t forget me here."
Mohammed, his wife, and their four children are hiding from the Taliban after his years-long attempt to get out of Afghanistan got tangled in the bureaucracy. They are among countless Afghan allies who were left behind when the U.S. ended its 20-year military campaign in Afghanistan on Monday.
Mohammed was a 36-year-old interpreter for the U.S. Army in 2008 when two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters made an emergency landing in Afghanistan during a blinding snowstorm, according to Army veterans who worked with him at the time. Onboard were three U.S. senators: Mr. Biden, the Delaware Democrat, John Kerry, (D., Mass.) and Chuck Hagel, (R., Neb.).
As a private security team with the former firm Blackwater and U.S. Army soldiers monitored for any nearby Taliban fighters, the crew sent out an urgent call for help. At Bagram Air Field, Mohammed jumped in a Humvee with a Quick Reaction Force from the Arizona National Guard working with the 82nd Airborne Division and drove hours into the nearby mountains to rescue them, said Brian Genthe, then serving as a staff sergeant in the Arizona National Guard who brought Mohammed along on the rescue mission.
Mohammed spent much of his time in a tough valley where the soldiers said he was in more than 100 firefights with them. The soldiers trusted him so much that they would sometimes give him a weapon to use if they got in trouble when they went into tough areas, Mr. Genthe said.
"His selfless service to our military men and women is just the kind of service I wish more Americans displayed," Lt. Col. Andrew R. Till wrote in June to support Mohammed’s application for a Special Immigrant Visa.
Mohammed’s visa application became stuck after the defense contractor he worked for lost the records he needed for his application, Mr. Genthe said. Then the Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15. Like thousands of others, Mohammed said he tried his luck by going to the Kabul airport gates, where he was rebuffed by U.S. forces. Mohammed could get in, they told him, but not his wife or their children.
Army veterans called lawmakers and issued dire appeals to U.S. officials for help. "If you can only help one Afghan, choose [Mohammed]," wrote Shawn O’Brien, an Army combat veteran who worked with him in Afghanistan in 2008. "He earned it."
A White House official declined to comment, saying the administration couldn’t discuss individual cases for confidentiality reasons.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden, who was then running for vice president, often spoke of the helicopter incident and the trip as a way of burnishing his foreign-policy credentials.
"If you want to know where al Qaeda lives, you want to know where [Osama] bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me," he said on the campaign trail in October, just months after the February rescue. "Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down…in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are."
The trip to Afghanistan was one of the many overseas trips the three senators took together.
Their Army helicopters’ emergency landing in a valley about 20 miles southeast of Bagram Air Field wasn’t in an area that was Taliban-controlled, but it wasn’t exactly friendly. The day before, the 82nd Airborne had killed nearly two dozen Taliban insurgents in a major fight about 10 miles away, said soldiers who fought there at the time.
While trying to stay warm in the helicopter, the three men joked about throwing snowballs at the Taliban, the senators said later.
"We were going to send Biden out to fight the Taliban with snowballs, but we didn’t have to do it," Mr. Kerry said after they were rescued.
Instead, Mohammed joined the Army Humvees and three Blackwater SUVs as they barreled through thick snow to find the helicopters. The senators were sped back to the U.S. base with the convoy, said Matthew Springmeyer, who was leading the Blackwater security in the helicopters that day.
Mohammed stood guard with Afghan soldiers on one side of the helicopters while members of the 82nd Airborne protected the other side, said Mr. Genthe. When curious locals came too close, Mohammed would use a bullhorn to tell them to go away. They stayed out there for 30 hours in the freezing temperatures until the U.S. military could get the helicopters back in the air and the soldiers back to Bagram.
Now, Mohammed is in hiding. "I can’t leave my house," he said on Tuesday. "I’m very scared."