Imperiled for helping U.S. troops and stranded by bureaucracy, Afghan interpreters see Biden evacuation plan as last hope

The letters from his American military superiors glowed with superlatives. Abdul Rashid Shirzad, they wrote, was a “true hero” and a man of “great character and integrity” who had acted courageously under fire to save American lives during more than two years as a battlefield interpreter.

In short, the formal commendations from three Navy SEAL commanders said, Shirzad was an exemplary model of how such interpreters — hired to help U.S. forces understand Afghan society and communicate in dangerous conditions with Afghan officials, villagers and prisoners — should perform their job.

But in 2016, three years after his stint with U.S. Special Operations forces ended, Shirzad’s application for a Special Immigrant Visa to the United States was denied. The terse letter from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said that he had failed to provide “faithful and valuable service” and that his case “lacked sufficient documentation.” No explanation was provided. Stunned, he said he appealed but never heard back.

Today, Shirzad, 35, is one of thousands of former Afghan interpreters for U.S. military and civilian agencies whose visa cases have been languishing in bureaucratic limbo. Now with U.S. forces leaving the country, their hopes have suddenly been raised by a promised mass evacuation plan, still in the initial stages, that could send them to third countries to complete the process — though with no guarantee of approval.