“I thought someone might show up with a gun and shoot me,” he said.
Instead, he got a flurry of phone calls expressing support. He was shocked when business quintupled on Sept. 12.
Then there were phone calls from American officials and contractors. The United States was going to war in Afghanistan, they said. Would Amini be interested in working with U.S. troops on the ground?
Amini had grown embittered toward U.S. foreign policy when the United States turned its back on Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. But a return to his homeland would mean a chance to rebuild the battered cities he had once fought to defend.
The night Amini closed his kebab restaurant in 2002, a local television news crew interviewed him. Wearing his usual black bow tie and white button-down shirt, he was surrounded by dozens of his customers.
“Everyone else from around the world wants to help this poor country,” he said, tearing up. “Why not me?”
‘Everything was in ruins’
In 2002, Amini arrived in Kandahar, a longtime Taliban stronghold, to work as a cultural adviser and interpreter. He couldn’t believe what had become of Afghanistan.
“Everything was in ruins,” he said.
Amini watched as U.S. officials made gains and errors — building schools and encouraging civil society while also awarding positions in the new government to corrupt Afghans. It sometimes seemed to him as if cultural awareness was being sacrificed for political expediency.
“If this is not right for this mission, I will fight you all the way to the White House,” he recalled telling his bosses.
His willingness to speak up earned him respect. By 2005, he had nearly unlimited access to top officials. When Hillary Rodham Clinton visited as secretary of state, Amini was her intermediary with a group of Afghan women. He took Vice President Biden to meet soldiers in eastern Afghanistan. He accompanied then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to volatile Wardak province.
Meanwhile, Amini’s brothers and sisters were ordinary Afghans living in a remote province in one of the world’s poorest countries. Sometimes they called him to complain about the actions of U.S. troops.
“My children almost died today,” his sister told him one day in 2009. A NATO convoy had held up traffic for more than seven hours. Cars with no air conditioning and no access to water were stuck on the road in scorching heat. Her children had grown pallid.
Amini shared the story with McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. “We are losing the support of the public,” Amini recalled saying. “We are losing hearts and minds.”