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Network of people using intel to direct Afghan interpreters around Taliban

Published: Updated:

“Hundreds of thousands” of people are coordinating to evacuate Afghan interpreters from the country, an Afghanistan war veteran and member of the coalition told Fox News. The network includes analysts using satellite imagery to locate Taliban checkpoints surrounding the Kabul airport.

Interpreters, essential to US allies during the Afghanistan war, and now targeted by the Taliban, played roles much larger than simply acting as translators, according to Matt Zeller who spoke to Fox News.

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“These people that we’re talking about … they were our eyes and ears on the battlefield,” Zeller told the channel.

He said they’d hear Taliban communications ordering fighters to shoot the interpreters first.

“They want revenge, they want retribution,” he said. “There’s no place for these people in Afghanistan.”

There’s estimated to be at least 20,000 Afghan interpreters and family members trapped in Afghanistan, Fox News reported.

Digital Dunkirk

Zeller described a “digital Dunkirk” campaign working to evacuate the Afghan interpreters. He said, “hundreds of thousands” of people joined the movement after just a few weeks, but that it could grow into the millions by the time it’s over.”

Members of Taliban forces gesture as they check a vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
Members of Taliban forces gesture as they check a vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

“If you served in the Afghan war and you still care about these people, chances are you’re probably part of the digital Dunkirk,” Zeller told Fox News.

He said it started as an “army of veterans” getting pinged by Afghans, but that the network has grown to include organizations for human rights, faith and political advocacy.

“It’s incredible,” Zeller said. “It’s not just veterans. Literally it’s pastors, it’s my mom, it’s my relatives, people who have never served in Afghanistan … widows, widowers, children of people who served.”

“We’ve had intel analysts who have come and started doing satellite imagery analysis and actually putting together products for people where they’re mapping out Taliban checkpoints in real time using social media data” to provide safe routes to the airport, Zeller told Fox News.

The Taliban have said it would forgive any Afghans who helped the US during the war. But the extremist group has established checkpoints blocking the path to the airport in Kabul, and numerous reports have indicated that they’re either recording or killing anyone they find that allied against them.

Zeller described one instance where he successfully got a US citizen through a gate at Kabul airport after talking with a marine over speaker phone.

“The rest of her family was there behind her,” Zeller told Fox News. “They’re not US citizens yet, and they weren’t allowed in.”

“She had to make the heartbreaking decision to leave her family behind,” he continued. “That is being played out over and over and over again.”

US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (Stock image)
US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (Stock image)

“I’ve got friends who have told me that they’ve had literally US citizens standing in the crowd waving their blue passports screaming ‘I’m a US citizen,’ and the Marines can’t come get them,” Zeller said.
Zeller said the US has a responsibility to evacuate the Afghan interpreters.

If they aren’t evacuated now, then “they’re gonna be dead, and we’ll regret for the rest of our lives having failed them,” Zeller told Fox News.

Zeller said he promised to someday repay his interpreter for saving the Marine’s life. He was able to help get the interpreter out of Afghanistan.

“I’m thankful I got to fulfill it for him, but there are now thousands of others, who Americans made just as equal and just as important of a promise, who are being betrayed and left behind,” Zeller told Fox News.

He said the US faces a moral injury if it fails to evacuate the Afghan interpreters.

He said he can’t imagine what it must be like for the US troops at the Kabul airport “who have to stand 50 meters away from the Taliban and watch them be thugs and not be able to do a damn thing about it.”

Zeller said the campaign to evacuate the interpreters “is a whole of America effort … minus the one guy, the only guy, who can give the order to actually truly save these people,” referring to President Biden, Fox News reported.

“I was appalled that the secretary of defense said he didn’t have the ability to guarantee the safe movement of Americans to the airport in Kabul,” Zeller told Fox News. “He absolutely does.”

“He has the United States military,” he continued. “What he doesn’t have is the orders to move those people.”

“At the end of a war, there are two questions that loom large,” Zeller said. “Was it worth it, and how do you end it?”

“History gets to decide the former, we get to decide the latter,” he told Fox News. “Right now, we’ve chosen to end it with profound shame.”

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