One year after U.S. evacuation, Afghan interpreter still feels ‘heartbroken’

One year after the U.S. military’s evacuation from Afghanistan, an Afghan interpreter reflects on his and his family’s traumatic experience.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Afghan interpreters discuss the friends and colleagues they have back home, who have seen long visa delays as the Taliban regains territory in Afghanistan.

Khalil Arab has been away from his home country of Afghanistan for over a decade now, but he still feels a semblance of pain for leaving his family behind amid the Taliban’s takeover last year.

Arab served as an interpreter for the U.S. military until 2010, when he faced threats from the Taliban for aiding the U.S. and was then forced to flee the country.

“I just realized that my life will not be ever the same again,” he said. “I had to flee Afghanistan with a backpack, and basically leaving everything behind.”

Since then, he’s been working with Afghan immigrant communities in the Houston area to help them assimilate into the American lifestyle, while also teaching them Western ideals and values.

But since the evacuation last year, Arab is finding it difficult to teach those values that he once believed in, to members of his community.

“I’m teaching Afghans, American values and American ideal, and at some point, I wonder if those ideals and if those values actually matter anymore. Because the way we abandoned Afghans in Afghanistan, the way we abandoned those who literally put their life in the line for us, it makes me wonder if those values actually matter anymore. If we believe in those values, and if we believed in those ideals, from the bottom of my heart, I believe we as a nation, could have done much more.”

Additionally, two days after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capitol, Arab lost his mother to a heart attack. Due to his status as an interpreter, he was never able to attend her funeral. To this day, his emotions around her death are mixed.

“She knew that she would not see myself and my brother for a long time, for God knows how long, because she knew that I will not be able to go back to Afghanistan under the Taliban, and I can surely say the same thing about my brother,” Arab said. “So she knew that she immediately lost two of her children, and she could not take that broke her heart, literally and figuratively.”

Both Arab and his brother arrived under special immigrant visas before the U.S. evacuation. In August 2021, Houston welcomed 2500 Afghan refugees to the city.

For those who arrived after the evacuation, Arab encourages individuals to give time and support to the newly arrived communities.