Houston — As an interpreter working with the US military in Afghanistan, Zar Mohammad Yusafzai taught English to Afghan soldiers and Pashto to the US military. He helped negotiate an agreement with tribal leaders to stop attacks on Americans and instructed Afghans on how to use American weapons.
He fends off mortar attacks and Taliban ambush, eventually threatening to kill him from armed groups who regarded him as a spy. One text message states: “You are a traitor. You are working for a non-belief. We are going to kill you.” His third son, then only seven years old, was ransomized by a militant in 2017. I was kidnapped.
When the Taliban attacked Afghanistan on August 14, his family of nine was evacuated on a U.S. military flight. By the time they landed in Virginia, armed groups had entered Kabul and had complete control of the country.
“Everyone calls me and says,’You are a very lucky person,'” he said.
This week, the family settled in a new apartment in southwest Houston. The atmosphere was a festival. Brand new kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies and toys donated by a local non-profit organization spilled from a large trash can. Brishna, 13; Huzzaif, 11; and Murtaza, 2, bubbling.
However, Yusafzai and his wife Bibi were worried about the fate of several brothers, nephews, and cousins who worked for the Americans. The attack at Kabul Airport on Thursday and the rapidly approaching US withdrawal made them less likely to escape soon.
Despite all the trauma, they said their only daughter now has a very different future than the Taliban-dominated future in Afghanistan. “I can study at school and be someone,” Brischna said.
And for Huzzaif, who was kidnapped four years ago and demanded a ransom, there is no longer any fear. “I can walk comfortably to the place,” he said. “My mother doesn’t have to worry about me being stolen anymore.”
The story with the Yusufzai Americans began in 2007, when Saar Mohammad, the youngest and most educated of the six brothers, got a job in the US military. The money was good and the family believed in America’s mission to eradicate the militants and develop their hometown.
Then, at the age of 30, he traveled from his home in Jalalabad to Kabul. There he easily passed oral and written exams to prove his English proficiency.
Soon he belonged to the U.S. Army forces in Kandahar, a hotbed of Taliban activity, and to Zabul, where the Taliban enjoyed support among many villagers and received financial rewards from opium cultivation.
Yousafzai won praise for his performance and helped his three brothers, three nephews, and co-brother-in-law secure jobs at the base. With the salary he earned, he was able to build a two-story section for his family with extended family compounds.
Major Austin Bird, who commanded the Army Corps of Engineers at the base, appointed him as chief interpreter. Together, they taught Afghan military personnel how to use and maintain equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes.
Yousafzai carried out combat missions with Major Bird’s soldiers in several states, who were attacked both inside and outside the base.
However, there were some light moments, and friendship grew.
“I remember celebrating the birth of my fourth child,” Major Bird said in an interview in 2012. “We talked about the joy of paternity over a cup of tea. Zah and I talked about the wonders of being a father and the unique joy of having both boys and girls.”
At some point in 2011, Yousafzai was informed by an American intelligence officer that he was being targeted by armed groups. They advised that he should try to disguise himself by changing the route to the base.
He continued to concentrate on his work, but became more and more anxious. He decided to apply for a special immigrant visa to move to the United States.
“When you got home, everyone knew you were working for Americans,” Yousafzai recalled.
His world has become smaller. He avoided leaving home except to go to work.
“Stop your job,” said one of the texts he received. “We can see you. You teach non-believers.”
In 2012, his eldest son, Abral, then six, was on his way home alone from a nearby mosque when the car approached with three men on board. The men called out to him, and when he retreated, one of them went out and tried to rob him. He managed to escape.
Intimidation against Mr. Yousafzai intensified. He was accused by members of the community of killing a village elder by American troops.
In 2015, he quit his job in the army and moved to Kabul. There he used his accounting degree to take up the position of government audit manager.
But his worries weren’t over. When he returned to Kabul from Jalalabad, where his family had been staying for some time, armed groups fired a gunfight at his car. He appeared unharmed.
In 2017, Huzzaif was kidnapped on his way home from school with two friends. The days passed without any news.
The caller, whose number was unknown, then demanded $ 200,000 to release the child alive. On the phone, Mr. Yusafzai could hear Fuzaif being whipped. The boy cried, begging his father to pay the ransom.
Yousafzai said he has $ 10,000 for the caller. “You are an American asset,” said the voice.
He borrowed from family and friends, scrambled to raise as much money as possible, and gave his wife little detail about the child being bound and beaten. The kidnapper set an impossible deadline (5 days, 3 days) until he finally accepted $ 40,000.
Born with a heart defect, Huzzaif went home even weaker. He screamed and woke up at night.
Yusafzai moved his family to Kabul.
In 2019, to his disappointment, US authorities refused to apply for his special immigrant visa. He immediately appealed and sought help from Major Bird.
Understand the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who is the Taliban? The Taliban occurred in 1994 in the turmoil after the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. They enforced the rules with brutal public punishments such as whiplash, cutting and mass slaughter. Here we will elaborate on the story of their origin and their record as ruler.
“I couldn’t get a clear answer as to why they denied him,” recalled Major Bird, who wrote several letters of recommendation to Yousafzai over the years.
He had been trying to get a visa for nine years last August before being notified by the consulate that his application had been approved. Still, the process got stuck. The coronavirus that caused the embassy to close has shut down the consulate.
One night last year, when they were waiting and everyone was sleeping soundly, a car bomb exploded outside their home in Kabul. The shrapnel hit the head, knees, arms and chin. Children can still curl their sleeves and trousers to show scars.
“I was desperate to go to America,” said Mrs. Yusafzai.
In late July, shortly after Mr. Biden promised to expedite the departure of his U.S. allies, Mr. Yousafzai received an email from the U.S. Embassy informing him that he could take a transfer flight to … ..