US friends try to rescue brother in arms in Afghanistan

·6 min read

Mohammad Khalid Wardak had no intention of leaving Afghanistan. The high-profile national police officer had worked alongside American special forces and even went on television to challenge the Taliban to a fight. He planned to stand with his countrymen to defend his homeland after U.S. forces were gone.

Then with stunning speed, the government collapsed. His president fled the country. And now Khalid, as he's called by his friends, is in hiding and desperately hoping that American officials will repay his loyalty by helping him and his family escape almost certain death.

But time — and U.S. policy — are not on his side. Translators, interpreters and others who worked for the U.S. in Afghanistan are eligible to apply for special immigrant visas, but current Afghan military members or police officers are not, supporters say. The State Department said they might be eligible for refugee status, but Khalid's supporters say his family needs to get out now.

His friends in the U.S. military say he's a brother in arms who helped save countless lives, and they are pleading for help — from members of Congress, the Defense Department and the State Department — to get Khalid and his wife and four children inside the Kabul airport and at least evacuated to another country.

“It is this nation's duty to help those who helped us and were loyal to us and their country for so long and have nothing left," said Army Special Forces Sgt. Major Chris Green, who worked with Khalid and is among several current and former military members pressing his case. "It's our duty to ... just help them survive. That’s where we are at this point, just helping them survive."

Khalid and his family have applied for refugee status based on their fear of persecution, Green said.

Those like Khalid who are top Taliban targets because of their work with U.S. forces deserve special consideration, said Robert McCreary, a former congressional chief of staff and White House official under President George W. Bush, who has worked with special forces in Afghanistan.

Those working to save Khalid said they had support from some members of Congress, including Delaware Sen. Chris Coons and Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, both Democrats. Neither of their offices returned phone and email messages.

“They’re shouting his name in the street, looking for him, hunting for him. And the fear is if they get a hold of him and his family, they are going to make an example out of them,” McCreary said.

Khalid came to the rescue in March 2013, when a special forces detachment in eastern Afghanistan’s Wardak Province suffered an insider attack: Someone dressed in an Afghan National Security Forces uniform opened fire, killing two Americans.

When the outpost was almost simultaneously attacked from the outside, a U.S. commander called on Khalid, who within minutes raced into the valley with a quick-reaction force to defend his American partners.

In 2015, when Khalid lost part of his right leg in a rocket-propelled grenade attack, friends in the U.S. military helped get him medical care and a prosthetic leg outside the country. A month later, he was again leading special police operations in Afghanistan alongside the U.S., Green said.

Along the way, he helped apprehend al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. He went on to serve as police chief in Ghazni Province and then Helmand Province, where he was wounded again last month in a mortar attack and continued to direct the resistance from his hospital bed.

“Khalid was — is — a true patriot to Afghanistan, but also resolute in support to the Americans," said Green, who said he saw Khalid's bravery and leadership many times.

That included his willingness to go on television and radio to tell citizens “exactly what our operations were ... how we were protecting the Afghan people and the Americans, and then daring the Taliban to drop their terrorist methods and come fight him face to face,” Green said.

“Without a doubt, they know who he is,” added Green, who said Khalid and his family are “running from one location to another just to stay hidden.”

"It’s just unimaginable terror, unimaginable fear.”

For now, Khalid, his wife and their four sons, ages 3 to 12, are “literally hiding in a closet,” said Ryan Brummond, a special forces commander who worked with Khalid in 2013 to track down high-level insurgents.

“He was so dedicated to the United States special forces and to the cause of a better life for all of us," said Brummond, now in his fourth year of medical school in North Carolina. “Khalid is that person who has fought and stood by us for years and years and years.”

Khalid's family almost certainly will not be able to get past the Taliban guarding the entrance to the Kabul airport, especially with documentation that would identify them — both to the Taliban who might kill them and Americans who might be able to help.

McCreary said Khalid and his family should be eligible for special immigrant visas or refugee status because he no longer works for the Afghan government. He pushed back on criticism from President Joe Biden and others that Afghanistan’s police and army let the country fall to the Taliban without a fight.

“People in Khalid’s situation ... had no plans of leaving Afghanistan,” McCreary said. “They were staying there to fight to the end.”

Heavy fighting raged in Helmand Province for two months before Khalid and other fighters were completely surrounded by the Taliban last week and their location overrun, McCreary said. Then on Monday, the Afghan government fell.

"There’s no more police force or army for them to serve in, and we don’t have a way to expedite ... getting them into secure areas in Afghanistan and then getting them evacuated,” Green said.

The work of changing that is painfully slow, he said, as the U.S. focuses on processing applications from those who already have applied for visas or refugee status. But the first step, he said, is to get them out of Afghanistan.

“We can figure it out from there,” Green said, adding that many in the U.S. military would gladly offer to help.

“Without a doubt, any one of us would take these guys, these police officers, these Afghan soldiers into our homes, with their families, and do anything we could do to help them just continue to live,” Green said.

For the moment, though, those who helped the U.S., “are now just absolutely left hanging out in the cold,” he said.

McCreary warned that time is running out: “It's just such an urgent, high-profile situation that it is really tearing us up. We know what’s going to happen, and it’s not good.”

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Associated Press Writer Matt Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Alex Sanz on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/alexsanz

Alex Sanz And Tammy Webber , The Associated Press

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