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Transcript: Withdrawal from Afghanistan with Gen. David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Ret.), Col. Steve Miska (U.S. Army, Ret.) and Afghan Interpreter Fraidoon Akhtari

MR. IGNATIUS: Welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m David Ignatius, a columnist for the Post.

This summer, U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan after a war that's lasted two decades. We'll be taking a close look this morning at that withdrawal and the implications for some of the Afghans who've helped us in that war.

In a bit, I'll be joined by an Afghan translator who worked with U.S. troops for 13 years as an interpreter talking about getting visas for some of his colleagues who similarly were helpful along with a retired Army colonel who worked to get interpreters out of Iraq in a similar situation and is now thinking about ways to help Afghani translators.

But, first, I want to turn to General David Petraeus who was our commander in Kabul, in Afghanistan, and also served as our commander in Iraq during the surge there, commander of CENTCOM. Nobody knows the region better than General Petraeus.

Welcome, General Petraeus. Great to see you this morning.

I want to ask you to begin with the core question, which is what your assessment is of President Biden's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11. This is a rapid withdrawal timetable. Do you think it's a wise decision, and what do you see ahead for Afghanistan as U.S. forces depart?


GEN. PETRAEUS: [In progress]--this decision, and I think that we may come to regret it now even sooner than I feared would be the case.

You have seen the Taliban take dozens of districts in recent weeks. It appears that that kind of psychological element that is so important with soldiers, that they know that someone is coming to the rescue and that there will be close air support, air medevac, additional forces. They seem to be doubting that, and whenever that happens, then you start to see soldiers not fight, desert, surrender, what have you, and we've seen that in dozens of districts, again, just in recent months.

As you'll recall me saying very early on, I feared that we were consigning Afghanistan to a civil war, and again, that seems to be materializing sooner than I had even feared it would.

Now, let me say that there certainly is the chance still that there could be a plan for stabilizing the situation, where the U.S., the coalition, and the Afghan government get together and determine, okay, we're going to give up certain areas of our country, particularly in the Pashto areas, the areas that are at most affinity with the Taliban and the other insurgent elements, and we're going to really defend these others.

Reportedly, in the meetings this past week when President Ashraf Ghani and his delegation were here and met with the president and others on Capitol Hill, the Defense Department, and the CIA, there were promises of several dozen additional Black Hawk helicopters--that's mobility for the quick reaction forces and medical evaluation--also a few additional close-air support aircraft, promise of additional money, and also some of the contractors would stay on the ground.

And I want to highlight the contractors, David, because it's not just the loss of the 3,500 U.S. forces and then the follow-on loss of 7- or 8,000 coalition that can't stay if the U.S. doesn't stay. It's also the loss of the contractors because they are the ones that keep the fixed and rotary wing assets of the Afghan air force flying. These are U.S. systems that we have provided to them, and in many cases, they require U.S. and/or western mechanics, spare parts, maintenance systems, and all the rest of that, that has been provided by thousands, many thousands of contractors for a number of years.

And I fear again that as the contractor force is reduced, as the air worthiness and the readiness of these air assets degrades that the Afghan forces will come to see that there is not someone coming to the rescue. So, it's critical that that element be provided, and it's also critical, I think, that we commit to providing air support when critical cities or critical province capitals are being threatened.

As you know, there's about 34 provinces in Afghanistan, some 320 districts, and dozens of those districts have come under the control of the Taliban, as I mentioned, in recent months.

MR. IGNATIUS: We'll come back, General Petraeus, to Afghanistan in a moment, but I want to ask you about something that's in the news overnight, and that's the raids that President Biden ordered yesterday on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. The raids were along the Iraq-Syria border. This is a problem. You know as well as anyone from your time as commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad. Do you think that was an appropriate action, and what more do you think the U.S. can do about the problem, the danger posed to remaining U.S. forces in Iraq by these militias?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I do support this, and I do believe that this is a problem, which is why these strikes were taken.

These Iranian-supported Shia militia that have been a huge problem over the last two decades, we defeated them, as you will recall, in the second half of the second year of the surge in the Battles of Sadr City and Basra and others, but they were allowed to reassemble and get back on the streets when the threat of ISIS loomed large in Iraq. And they have never left the street since then, and they're now much more heavily equipped and armed with weapons provided by Iran. And they have been shooting rockets and mortars and flying drones at our forces and only a few thousand of them left there in a variety of bases around the country, including in the Kurdish region where they have been struck, and so this had to happen, I think.

The question is, does this exacerbate the presence of the U.S. forces for the Iraqi government that doesn't like the Iranian-supported militia, but they are a reality? And they are literally part of the overall forces of Iraq. In fact, there was just a huge parade of them in honor of them and what they had done. That's the political dynamic of this, and we have to be very careful not to stress that over much, which is undoubtedly one reason that probably two of the strikes were in Syria and just one of them in Iraq, and it may be that there have to be some other asymmetric attacks against various assets in the Gulf or in Iran, where it's not completely clear who did what was done. But the Iranians will have a sense that we were behind it and that they should not allow their militia. They do largely control these militia and can direct them, and they're going to have to put a leash on them.

And then the challenge is going to be for the Iraqi government that, as I said, does not love these elements at all but did employ them, and they did fight hard against the Islamic state. They are a reality, and they're linked to political parties, because keep in mind, what Iran has always sought to do in Iraq is what they have achieved in Lebanon, which is to have strong forces on the ground, Lebanese Hezbollah, militia forces, that have street muscle and then to have corresponding political power in the parliament, the Iraqi Council of Representatives, so in other words, to Lebanonize Iraq just as they have Lebanonized Iran.

They're not quite at that level yet in the parliament. There are some very important Shia elements that swing back and forth between the government and the Iranian-supported desires, but that's the reality that a very competent prime minister and president and other ministers are dealing with in Iraq with an election probable later this year.

MR. IGNATIUS: Do you expect, General Petraeus, that these Iranian-backed militias or even Iran will retaliate for yesterday's U.S. action, and if so, what should we do?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I suspect they will. I mean, what we should do--and I think we presumably have--is we--first, we have to accelerate the development and deployment of really capable counter-drone systems. Those are in short supply. There's a lot in testing, but the drones have really changed the threat a fair amount--and then ensure that we have the other systems that can knock down rockets and missiles and so forth. Force protection is one of the steps that we have to take.

Then, as I mentioned, I'd be examining--and I'm sure people are, what are the other actions we could take perhaps, again, outside Iraq? Because we don't want to stress the U.S.-Iraq relationship over much. You will have seen that the Iraqi military, which also doesn't really like these militias because they are pretty much out of their control, even though they're paid by the government, they had to issue a statement yesterday that described the U.S. strike as a violation of their sovereignty and so forth.

So, we have to be very careful about the very delicate balance of politics there in Baghdad.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let's turn back to Afghanistan and in particular the focus of our program this morning, which is the situation for the Afghan interpreters who risk their own lives to help U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

You and your longtime diplomatic colleague, Ryan Crocker, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Blinken recently urging him to dramatically accelerate the issuance of visas for these Afghani interpreters. How do you think that's going, and what do you think is going to be the cost for us in terms of America's reputation if we can't get those people who risked their lives for us out of the country?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I think we have a moral obligation to individuals who shared risk and hardship alongside our soldiers on the battlefield. These are battlefield interpreters, by and large, for two or more years. That's the criteria to apply for a special immigrant visa. And not only that, they risk their own lives and the lives of their family members as well because the Taliban generally know who they are. They're tracking them down. There have been a lot of assassinations. Hundreds of them have been killed in recent years. They're in a desperate situation, and with our forces leaving and with the embassy already having drawn down its forces and now in a COVID lockdown, needless to say, there has not been much progress on the processing of the special immigrant visas in recent months.

Ambassador Crocker, again, my great battlefield comrade during the surge in Iraq, and I wrote that letter a couple of months ago, and we're not aware of any really substantial progress in that time. There have been trickles of special immigrant vias approved. A few folks have made it here and have been created by those who are already here and so forth, but again, against a number of some 18,000 times a certain number of family members, you can see the magnitude of the problem is not small.

I didn't at that time necessarily support a big airlift, but it is looking as if to meet the policy decision the president has announced now, which is that we will not leave them behind, it's not going to be business as usual, and I don't think the normal process is going to accelerate sufficiently in the course of the next month or two so that we can get them all to the United States with the visa that they have earned.

MR. IGNATIUS: That's a powerful idea. I haven't heard it expressed that directly, that we ought to have an airlift devoted to getting these people out, if I understand you.

GEN. PETRAEUS: Yeah. And, look, I'm conscious of the psychological effect that that has on Afghanistan, but we are where we are. We put ourselves where we are by this very rapid decision to draw down. I must confess that I think there had to be some degree of disbelief in the ranks of our military and, frankly, I think we other departments as well. We've been scrambling to draw down, handing off bases to the Afghans, and again, I feared that we would end up in quite a desperate situation. And that seems to be the direction which this is headed, and of course, at a certain point, al-Qaeda and the Islamic state will reestablish sanctuaries there. I don't see a threat to the homeland in the near future, but needless to say, we'll see what they're capable of doing, and we're going to have to play very close attention.

I know that the intelligence community is vastly better and vastly better equipped and much more capable, both in terms of systems and capabilities and also processes, than prior to 9/11. Nonetheless, that could emerge as a threat because the Taliban has shown no signs that it's going to cut ties with al-Qaeda, and we'll see where the Islamic state, which now has an affiliate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, ends up as well.

MR. IGNATIUS: Explain to our viewers who may not have any familiarity with this terrain what the military importance of these interpreters is for a commander like you. What do they do? Why are they so essential?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, they do much more than just translate from English to Pashto or Dari or whatever language dialect and so forth and vice versa. They're also, in many cases, your eyes and ears. They are your cultural advisors. They are your policy advisors. Again, they obviously understand the country vastly better than we do, and even with all the time that we have spent there, there is still an enormous dependence on them, and that's especially true, of course, for those who are literally on the front lines, on patrol, out with our forces.

Our son was a rifle platoon leader with the 173rd Airborne Brigade when I was the commander in Afghanistan, and again, these battlefield interpreters, they have multiple tours, the equivalent of two of our Army tours, two years on the ground, at least to qualify for the special immigrant visa, and they're very, very important. They're rucked up every day. They're out there. They are the ones who are the interface for us with the local population. So, they're critical to the effort.

You may recall when I was a two-star general in Iraq during the invasion and then when we ended up in Mosul, I actually asked for a host nation, a local Moslawi interpreter, and we found a young, just college graduate to help me, and he was invaluable. Again, we knew nothing about Mosul. We weren't supposed to be there. We didn't even have maps until 36 hours prior to the big air assault north from Baghdad, and they were absolutely indispensable.

And beyond that, again, they have risked their lives not just on the battlefield interpreting and translating, but then because of the fact that they worked for our forces, they're marked men or, in some cases, women, and they have family members who are also targeted by the Taliban.

So, again, it's both a moral obligation that we have to discharge. It's also the right obligation to discharge because if others around the world see that we don't live up to our obligations to these individuals--and everyone knows about the special immigrant visa process--then we're going to find it very hard to recruit that kind of assistance in other situations around the world.

MR. IGNATIUS: Let me ask you a final grim question, General Petraeus. What do you think are the consequences for the region, for the United States posture around the world if the government of Afghanistan collapses soon after our withdrawal, as U.S. intelligence reports suggest may happen? What will that trigger in the region and internationally?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, again, my hope would be that that would not be the case, David. My hope would be that we recognize this has to have been a wakeup call for anybody who thought that we were going to pull out of there and the government was going to remain stable, Afghan forces would keep fighting, even as their air capability eroded and as the soldiers on the front lines started to recognize that, again, why fight? There's nobody coming to the rescue.

So, the consequences of a further deterioration if we don't develop a stabilization plan, which is what I would be most urgently seeking to do were I still in government now, will be, again, a civil war. You have already seen many reports of different ethnic and sectarian groups inside Afghanistan, and it's a melting pot. It's another one of these countries where all the fault lines of the world seem to find themselves, and they are already, again, starting to gather together, taking out their arms, showing their loyalty. And this is what always happens when you see these kinds of threats. People seek refuge with Tribes, with militias, with those of their ethnic and sectarian grouping.

You could see some others intrude. By the way, there are reports that the Iranians are massing some forces to protect the Hazara Shia in Afghanistan who have been targeted very brutally by the Islamic state, we believe, in recent months.

But you have all the northern tribes and so forth, that, again, we've seen this moving before. This was the kind of civil war that took place in the wake of the collapse of the post-Soviet Afghanistan government, and that's a very ugly situation, with millions of refugees flowing into countries, in particular, Pakistan, which does not need millions of refugees. It's got enough challenges of its own.

The resurgence or the reestablishment of the kind of sanctuary in Afghanistan that al-Qaeda enjoyed when it planned the 9/11 attacks on Afghan soil under the Taliban rule, the possibility of an Islamic state sanctuary there as well, but just a tremendous amount of fighting, loss of life, humanitarian catastrophe. Of course, the nongovernmental organizations will have to leave, and they provide a lot of the basic services for Afghans in a variety of locations around the country.

There's a plan right now to keep a hospital going in Kabul with an outside force, to keep the airport open, again, with an outside force and so forth, but I'm not sure how long all of this is sustainable if we don't pitch in, as we did apparently in recent days in a province north of Kabul in Kunduz. Kunduz City was threatened, and apparently, U.S. airpower was brought to bear.

By the way, keep in mind there is one positive development of all of this, and that is if the Taliban want to take major cities and major areas, they have to emerge, and they have to fight like an army rather than as insurgence and terrorist groups. And that presents a target, and we are very, very good at dealing with targets when they present themselves if the policy decision allows us to do so. I would counsel that that is something that we should do.

Again, I think the big imperative right now, David, in addition to figuring out how on an emergency basis, we're going to take thousands and thousands of former battlefield interpreters out of the country. The real urgent task is to determine how to stabilize the situation along the front lines of the battlefield, have a coherent plan for defense, and then ensure that we are going to enable the Afghans to keep flying with their forces so that they can respond to front-line actions that require reinforcement and close air support. Without that, again, the situation on the battlefield will deteriorate further, and you will see progressively, again, the signs of an incipient and imminent civil war.

MR. IGNATIUS: So, General Petraeus, I want to thank you for that very clear and troubling assessment of where we are. Thanks for joining us this morning.

GEN. PETRAEUS: It's always a privilege to be with you, David. Thanks.

MR. IGNATIUS: We want to turn now to two other people who have firsthand experience of these difficult problems for those who fought with America and its wars. We're going to be joined by retired U.S. Army Colonel Steve Miska, who is an Iraq war veteran, now executive director of First Amendment Voice.

I'm going to hold off the further introductions and let you watch a video. Then we'll introduce our next guests.

[Video plays]

MR. IGNATIUS: We're pleased to be joined in the second half of our discussion of withdrawal from Afghanistan by retired Colonel Steve Miska, who was an Iraq veteran, as I mentioned, executive director of First Amendment Voice. He's taught at West Point, served on the NSC staff. And we also are pleased to have with us one of the Afghan battlefield interpreters that General Petraeus was talking about, Fraidoon Akhtari, who was known to the American soldiers he worked with usually as "Fred" to help protect his identity.

To Steve Miska and Fraidoon Akhtari, welcome.

Let me start with Fraidoon and just ask you to tell us your story. You worked with American forces on the battlefield for 13 years, and those soldiers have said you saved many lives by telling them where the Taliban adversary was. Why did you make the decision to risk your own life and help America in this war as an interpreter?

MR. AKHTARI: Good morning, David. Thank you for inviting me. It's my pleasure to be among you guys today.

The reason I joined to be with the U.S. Army as a translator was my wish to bring peace and prosperity for my people as well as for the whole war, because during Taliban, Afghanistan was fully discovered by terrorists. Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. Taliban was in Afghanistan. They used to kill every single person for no reason. That's why I joined with the U.S. Army, to bring peace and prosperity for my country, as it was to bring peace and prosperity for the war. That's why I joined with the troops.

In the beginning of 2004, I started with the Army, which was I just graduated from high school. I went to college for a month. Then I decided, no, I shouldn't be in the college. Let's be with the troops. They left their families. They left their countries, and they are here to help my country. That's why I started working with the troops.

MR. IGNATIUS: That's a powerful story, Fraidoon.

I want to ask Colonel Miska to put that in perspective for us. You worked extensively with interpreters who served in Iraq. Do you think that we, as General Petraeus said, have a moral obligation now as this war is ending to do everything we can to get these interpreters who risked their lives to safety?

COL. MISKA: Thank you, David. Absolutely. You know, the smile that comes on my face when I saw people like Fraidoon, who served alongside of our soldiers in Afghanistan, safe here in the United States and not moving his home every couple weeks in some cases, as many of my former colleagues are doing in Iraq--and I know it's also happening many times in Afghanistan. People are hiding and running for their lives, and so the smile that comes to my face when seeing a successful SIV applicant make it here is why I'm saying we need to do this withdrawal with dignity. And the dignity that comes from bringing our closest partners from conflict zones is very important to the veteran community. It allows us to live up to our ethos of leave no one behind.

We inculcate that into our servicemen and -women, and they go into harm's way, and they realize that our most trusted partners in whatever the conflict zone is--but in Afghanistan, it's acute right now because of the withdrawal--we need to bring them out. And that's how many of our servicemen and -women feel, and they're coming together with humanitarian groups. They're coming together with resettlement agencies to support the decision to do an evacuation, and so we just want to see more details on what that looks like and be available to assist.

MR. IGNATIUS: Steve, I want to just continue with you for a moment. Our viewers may wonder how is it possible to get so many people out. You have recently published a book, what you call the "Baghdad Underground Railroad," which was your operation to get Iraqi interpreters and others out of the country. Tell us a little bit about that story.

COL. MISKA: Sure. When I was in Iraq at the same time as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, it was the most lethal time for our Iraqi interpreters, and it seemed as if everybody was trying to kill them. It was al-Qaeda in Iraq at that time. The Shia militias, some of them Iranian-backed, as we discussed earlier, were there targeting our closest partners because they knew they could blind us culturally. As General Petraeus mentioned, they are our cultural eyes, ears, and mouthpieces. They help us understand the terrain, and we realized too late that they were being targeted.

I personally lost several members of my team, Iraqis, interpreters and others, and we decided we need to help them, and at that time, the special immigrant visa had just been legislated by Congress. Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus were lobbying Washington to expand it because we needed that safety valve. As my team looked into the bureaucracy of it, we realized no Iraqi could navigate that system. It was so arcane, and so we decided to try to help them.

And where the underground railroad aspect came in was--I know for many of your listeners who have experience in government, this is going to be a shock, but the system actually had a built-in Catch-22. We had closed Embassy Baghdad to the final step, the last interview before you receive the visa, because we cited security concerns, so very similar to how conditions are in Afghanistan, and as a result, we said, "You need to go do your interview in Amman, Jordan." Well, the Jordanians had closed the border to Iraqis. They had a refugee crisis on their hands; hence, it was a Catch-22, very dangerous for Iraqis at the time to get to Jordan. They either had to attempt to drive the "Highway of Death," it was called, through Anbar province to cross the Jordanian border. That highway was contested, and al-Qaeda in Iraq was out there as well as Sunni militia and insurgents, and it just would have been almost suicide to drive that road.

So, they had to choose the lesser of evil options, which was to fly out of Baghdad International Airport, which was under the control, in some cases, of Shia militia. They were watching for traitors, people who allied with the occupiers, and as a result, it was just very dangerous.

The last third of the book actually goes into what happened when our interpreters made it to the United States, the cultural assimilation transitions that occurred, and how that happened with these courageous sponsors who opened their doors to welcome them here to the United States.

So, anyway, that tells the story from that time, and it was a labor of love to get that out there and try to flag possibilities for how we could do things in other countries that are conflict zones as well.

MR. IGNATIUS: Thanks for sharing that bit of history.

Fraidoon, I want to ask you about the situation for interpreters who are still in Kabul. As Steve said earlier, it's great to see you and know that you're safe here in the United States, but I gather that there are many battlefield interpreters who have been promised these special immigrant visas. But when they go to the U.S. Embassy for what they hope is the final step, they are told, "Not yet." What are you hearing from your friends about the confusion there, and what should we do about it?

MR. AKHTARI: Actually, everybody knows the situation is getting worse in Afghanistan. The troops are leaving soon, and we have thousand translators left behind.

Example, I'm one of them. I applied for SIV seven times. Two times, they lost my document, and five times, they denied my case for no reason. Finally, I made it by help of my friends and those who I work with. I have thousand friends behind. I'm talking with most of them every day.

Some of them, even they got their visa, they sold their house. Their sold their property, and they were supposed to leave next day. Then the embassy called them, and they took their visa back, and they are stuck in Afghanistan for no reason.

Some of them have been working more than 18 years for special forces. Still, they are waiting for their visa. By leaving these troops from Afghanistan, I'm sure the situation is getting worse and worser, and it's very hard and dangerous for those people that are left behind.

I'm not sure what the process is, but I know it's a long process. But even when they deny their case, they're not going to tell them why. If they call the embassy, the embassy never respond to the emails, no phone calls, nothing, and they are in the middle of nowhere. They sold their property. They sold house, car, any investment they had, and they are ready to fly. And next day, they took their visa back, and they are in the middle of nowhere.

They keep asking me, "What should we do?" I don't know, but the only point of contact I had, I usually tell them to call IRAP. They might give you a lawyer, and they might help you out. And I'm sure their life is in danger, maybe today or next day or maybe a month from now. They might have lost their lives because Taliban recently announced that those who work with Americans can stay in the country and we are not going to harm them, but as a human, I don't trust Taliban because they never been in their promises. I'm sure if they see those people that work for the Army as a translator, they are going to kill them right away. There is no option for those people who served with the Army and overseas but especially in Afghanistan to be alive.

MR. IGNATIUS: You mentioned IRAP and the ways in which people can seek advice, and I know Steve is part of that process. Steve, let me ask you about that but more generally about President Biden's plans, as best we understand them. He's said last week that no one will be left behind and talked about sending these interpreters, these special visa people to a third country or perhaps a territory like Guam. In your mind, would that be an acceptable solution to this problem, or do we need to accelerate this, rethink it even more aggressively than that?

COL. MISKA: Yeah. Well, the humanitarian groups have been calling for what they call a "Guam option" now for months, knowing that once the decision was made that there could be a potential crisis coming, and what I would state is that in the--this is not unusual to do an evacuation. We evacuated 130,000 Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon in 1975, but what happened then, though, was we waited until it became a crisis. And that's what we are cautioning the administration not to do. Don't repeat past lessons where we allow it become a crisis. We need to get ahead of this and get our most trusted partners out.

I saw Congressman Seth Moulton call on the administration for an operational plan only a couple days ago. I concur with that. I would like to assist and be available.

There are so many organizations that become part of what that plan would look like, and it starts with an interagency task force being designated that has authority to handle the evacuation, and if it goes to a third country, that's one step. But then they also need to be brought to the United States, and previous cases, we used places like Camp Pendleton in California, right near me. Fort Dix in New Jersey has been used, other places around the country, because the next step in the process, when families start arriving, is government resettlement agencies get involved, but veteran support organizations want to be part of this as well. They want to marry sponsors with families.

It's such a difficult challenge when you come from a place like Afghanistan, which is a cash-based society, and you're coming to the United States where you don't have a credit rating. And so, these organizations, the groups like IRAP that I heard Fred mention, the International Refugee Assistance Project, there are lawyers that help navigate the process to get here, but then you've got other organizations like No One Left Behind, like Miry's List in L.A. that help with the transition, to help families adjust to their new communities and their new life.

There are a lot of things that need to happen, and we would like to also see civilian leadership designated to lead that task force. And it's important to have a civilian in there who works well with the resettlement agencies. These are also called "voluntary agencies," VOLAGs for short, in past evacuations, and what they do is vital to the reception of new families coming in. They've lost a lot of resources over recent years, and so there needs to be some attention focused on helping bring back some robustness into that part of the network.

There are a lot of things that need to happen, David. There is a lot of goodwill in the veterans service organizations that are out there to help this withdrawal with dignity, and I'm heartened to hear General Petraeus call for an air evacuation. I absolutely agree. We don't have seaports like we did in Vietnam, so thank you for asking that question.

MR. IGNATIUS: Well, Steve, thank you for helping us folks.

Fraidoon, I want to close briefly--we have only a minute or so left--with you and ask you to help people understand the risk that you've taken. I read that you participated in over 500 combat missions--

MR. AKHTARI: Yes, I did.

MR. IGNATIUS: --during the 13.5 years that you were an interpreter.

I'm told that you have a friend still in Afghanistan who was a volunteer in close to a thousand missions over 16 or 17 years, still doesn't have a visa. What do you say to him as a friend? What should we say to him as a country?

MR. AKHTARI: Actually, this is true, because we start together same day. I was working for the Army. He was working for the Army. Then he moved, started working with the special forces. I did until July 17th. He did until a few months ago. When the special forces left Afghanistan, they sent him home.

Even--I call him--he got visa once, his visa for him, his wife, and two kids, and he was about to leave Afghanistan almost three years ago. Then the embassy called him back next day and said, "Bring your visa back because your case is denied."

Like, those people, the only thing I can tell him, I will direct him to get help from different organizations if I knew any of them in the United States, but for us being kind of partner with those people, we have to show him right way. We have to bring him home as soon as possible because they have done more than most people can ever think about it, and as General Petraeus said, they are the ears and the eyes of troops. Without those people, the mission will fail. I'm sure without those people, you might be losing thousands of troops. But for some reason, they denied their case, and the took their visa back, and they are still waiting over there.

I think we should push forward to get him the visa as soon as possible and bring him home. I'm sure they're not fully veteran, but they serve with the Army. They need to get some attention.

MR. IGNATIUS: Fraidoon Akhtari and Colonel Steve Miska, I want to thank you for making this problem vivid for our viewers. I hope our viewers include some people in the U.S. government who can do something about this. Thank you so much for joining us today on this special discussion of withdrawal from Afghanistan.

COL. MISKA: Thank you, David.

MR. IGNATIUS: Please keep watching Washington Post Live. At 10:30 Eastern time this morning, my colleague, Eugene Scott, will interview New York Congressman Ritchie Torres for our “Race in America” series. For more information about this and other upcoming Washington Post Live programming, go to Thank you for joining us this morning.

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