The Afghanistan Withdrawal

An Afghan Interpreter Is On The Run From The Taliban. A Houston Veterans Group Says His Former Employer Won’t Help

The interpreter is unable to get the visa he needs to come to the U.S. because his former employer, U.S. security contractor DynCorp, refuses to correct a mistake in his paperwork about how long he worked for the company, according to those trying to help him.

In this Nov. 3, 2009, file photo, soldiers meets with villagers in Qatar Kala in the Pech Valley of Afghanistan’s Kunar province with an interpreter. A Houston veterans group is trying to help another unidentified interpreter make it to the United States before the Taliban finds him.

With news out of Afghanistan growing bleaker by the day in the wake of a Taliban takeover, efforts continue to try to rescue Afghans who helped the United States during its nearly 20-year war.

Now a Houston veterans' group is trying to help one interpreter currently stranded and on the run from the Taliban, after they say his former employer refused to do so.

For three years, from 2004 to 2007, the interpreter — whose identity Houston Public Media is withholding, to protect his safety — worked for U.S. security contractor DynCorp at a base near Kandahar, helping to train Afghan police. Mark Labbe was one of the first people to work with the interpreter, joining DynCorp near Kandahar after retiring from the Grand Prairie Police Department.

"He was one of the few translators that I had complete faith in, that would translate exactly what I was saying and would tell me exactly what was being told back to me," Labbe said.

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All of the interpreter's former partners who spoke with Houston Public Media had similar praise for his work and dedication. The interpreter did more than simply translate, they said — he also provided the U.S. with valuable intelligence. He “had his ear to the ground,” according to Joseph Henry, who came to Kandahar after retiring from the New York Police Department and the U.S. Army Reserves. He made key recommendations, and vetted people during training of the Afghan National Police.

"I would say he was really behind the mission that we had," Henry said. "He wanted a free and independent Afghanistan. Self-determining. He felt as most of us did at the time that the only way to do that was to get their police forces and the Afghan National Army up and running."

The interpreter realized as early as 2018 that his safety depended on getting out of Afghanistan. He needed to get what's called a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, to relocate to the United States. Cress Clippard — who works with the Houston veterans' group Combined Arms, which helps Afghan former contractors to get those visas — said that often comes with a lot of red tape.

"There’s stringent requirements, and then there’s a lot of documentation and background checks that they have to go through,” Clippard said. “But once they apply, if they’re successful, they get to come to the United States under a green card and eventually become citizens with their immediate families.”

The interpreter gathered his documentation. But when he tried to get proof of his work for DynCorp, the company claimed he'd only worked for them less than a year, making him ineligible for the SIV program.

"I can tell you right now with great certainty that (the interpreter)'s issue is an error on DynCorp's part that they are refusing to correct," Clippard said. "I’ve personally communicated with the HR representative...in their Fort Worth office. He is listed on several HR letters as the HR point of contact at DynCorp. And mostly we get auto replies or referred to another email address.”

In a statement, the company would not discuss details of the interpreter’s situation.

“We understand the urgency and sensitivity surrounding the Special Immigrant Visa application process that is ongoing in Afghanistan,” the company wrote. “While it is our policy not to discuss any specific application due to privacy and safety concerns, we remain committed to fully supporting our partners at the Department of Defense and Department of State in order to verify the employment of individuals applying for the visa. We will continue to follow their procedures and established processes for the duration of the effort and encourage all those who are broadly qualified to submit their applications to the U.S. government as soon as possible.”

Other former partners have reached out to DynCorp to help. Jimmy Allen Hill, who worked with the interpreter while on leave from the Angelina County Sheriff's Office, said he’s been frustrated by what he says is a lack of care and urgency from the company.

"I called their corporate office in Virginia and I pleaded with that lady very nicely: ‘I do not know where to turn. A man and his family's lives (are) very much in danger and if I could speak to someone we could get this resolved. And she told me, ‘I can't help you. There’s nothing that can be done. We can’t talk about anything about employees,'” Hill said. “I’m floored. Why even have a HR department if you can’t resolve issues?"

Now, the interpreter is in hiding. Houston Public Media has communicated with him by email. He said his brother told him the Taliban had seized his house and planned to kill him when they found him.

Cress Clippard of Combined Arms said the group has recently welcomed several former Afghan contractors and their families on SIVs to Houston. And routinely, the Taliban have murdered those family members they've left behind.

"The spokesman for the Taliban, will tell you that they are not seeking revenge and that they’re going to grant amnesty and they have a plan for this,” Clippard said. “But that’s simply not the case.”

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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