- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Afghan civilians who have helped coalition troops in the U.S.-led mission now fear the Taliban will kill them after Western forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“In Afghanistan, if you work with foreigners — not just Americans — they call you an infidel or a spy,” an Afghan man who has worked as an interpreter for U.S. troops said of the Taliban.

“Once the Taliban find out that you’re working for the U.S. Army, you’re done for, and so is your family,” he said in a phone interview from Kabul. Like most other interpreters interviewed for this article, he asked that his name not be used out of fear for his and his family’s lives.

When his elder brother, who also works as an interpreter for U.S. troops, received death threats, his boss gave him two options: He could either quit his job or take $400 and buy an AK-47 assault rifle for his protection.

Since the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the Western coalition has employed thousands of Afghans, most of them as interpreters, who have accompanied troops to the front lines of the war.

While the personal risks are daunting, coalition jobs mean good money for Afghans desperate for work in a feeble economy.

“For interpreters, it’s a choice between money and security,” said a second Afghan man who recently moved to Virginia with his wife, a U.S. citizen, but who still has family in Afghanistan.

He said he was motivated to earn enough money to pay his way through college. He worked for a year as an interpreter translating between the local languages, Dari and Pashto, and English as he accompanied U.S. troops on dangerous missions to Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south, as well as to the capital, Kabul.

“If someone wants to kidnap you, you are not safe even in the middle of Kabul,” he said. “You may be safe when you’re on the [military] base, but you are always worrying about your family,” often living hundreds of miles away.

President Obama on Friday will host Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House for talks on the security transition in Afghanistan.

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Interpreters and their families, especially those who live in Taliban strongholds in the south and east of the country, have been threatened, attacked and even killed.

In November, the Taliban killed two Afghan interpreters in eastern Logar province.

“Bombs have exploded outside the homes of my friends” who worked with the coalition, said Abdul, an interpreter based in southern Afghanistan who gave only his first name. “They lost their family. They received threats, but that is normal.”

Omar Samad, a senior Afghanistan specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said, “Taliban targeting of such individuals is a psychological-warfare tactic that could be effective in the short term but very damaging to the country that needs to keep its human and professional capital at home.

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