Former Marine: 'We Made Very Clear Promises' About Delivering To Safety Those Who Helped Americans In Afghanistan
The deadline has arrived for getting U.S. citizens, lawful, permanent residents and allies out of Afghanistan. Among those trying to get out are Afghans who helped U.S. troops with tasks such as translations. Richard Porter is a former Marine now project manager in the Chapel Hill area. He's part of a volunteer effort called Team America that's patching together technology and personal contacts to get people who want to leave out of the country.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Richard, thank you for joining us.
Richard Porter: Thank you for having me.
Glenn: Well, one of your former interpreters made it out of Afghanistan. His name was Nemat, and we're only using his first name because he fears retaliation. Tell us about how you met and worked with him.
Porter: Nemat and I met about 10 years ago on my second deployment to Afghanistan when I was there as a part of an adviser team. Members of the team had recently survived what was called a green-on-blue attack in which the Afghans we were there to mentor had a member of their organization that attacked members of our team. They inflicted two killed in action and wounded four of the Marines. And I was brought over to the team as a combat replacement immediately after that attack.
And Nemat was one of the interpreters that was there with the team already during that time and accompanied us on our redeployment to embed with an Afghan Army battalion. And he and our other interpreters were absolutely critical to our mission.
He was a very young man at the time. He was somewhere around the age of 21. And he and our other interpreters were absolutely critical to our mission because of the impact that these people had and the power that they gave us and the ability to understand not only the language, which is very challenging to learn, but also the cultures and understanding the difference between the Pashtun people and the Tajik people and the Hazara people. And there was one event in specific where Nemat really proved how valuable that power was.
Glenn Tell us about that.
Porter: So we were on a patrol and one of my Marines happened to be of Filipino ancestry. And a villager passing by made a quick, rude remark in Pashto. He said something confusing. And Nemat quickly explained to my Marine that he was being rude because he thought my Marine was Hazara, which is a certain type of people in Afghanistan that the Pashtun do not like or tolerate very well. And we would not have been able to understand that if we wanted to get something from this villager, we needed to have a different Marine talk to him. If it weren't for the cultural sensitivity in the language understanding that Nemat delivered to our team.
Glenn: And that's one thing that we are hearing a lot of now that the war has ended, is that the U.S. never really understood the culture of Afghanistan.
Porter: I would say that we invested a lot in learning, and one of the best ways that we learned was in partnering with our allies that were born there and grew up there. And we made very clear promises to those people about the safety we would deliver to them and their families and then themselves. And we owe it to them to try and bring them to a place of safety whenever and however you possibly can.
Glenn: How did you hear about Nemat's struggle to get out and how did he make it through Taliban checkpoints and out of the country?
Porter: Yeah, I was just checking up on my fellow Marines and seeing how they were feeling and sitting with what was happening. And I checked in with my old master sergeant and he said, "Sir, you got to get on this group chat real quick." And I got on and saw that Nemat had gone home to visit family. So I realized from that that he was stuck in Kabul as Kabul was falling.
So I did the only thing that I knew that I could and wrote some encouraging words to him, said something like, "I know this is scary and you are brave and you are tenacious and I know you will find a way through this." And he did. And when he later told me the story, he said that he donned local clothing instead of his American clothing and he concealed his passport and he got a ride with some friends and family members and got through several Taliban checkpoints, got into the crowd at one of the gates when there was only 300 people there, pushed his way through the crowd until he was right in front of the Marines and waved his blue passport at the Marines. And they pulled him up over the wire and he got on one of the earliest C-17s that flew out of there and landed in Qatar.
Glenn: Well, that sounds like a harrowing experience for him, Richard. What tools and sources does Team America leverage to get people out?
Porter: So now that all American forces are wheels up, we've shifted our focus to advising and providing secure document storage for people that still want to leave to help coordinate and reduce the red tape these people have to go through to become safe.
Glenn: And how many others have you personally helped?
Porter: I've worked in largely a tech support role to the rest of Team America, but as a team we have tracked out 300 to safety, and there's over 1,000 that we are still tracking that have not made it to safety.
Glenn: Richard, White House officials say they will continue to ensure safe passage to get people out. How likely do you think that will happen? And what are your concerns for American citizens and others who were didn't make it out?
Porter: I have many concerns. It strikes us as pretty absurd that we're currently charging these people that are fleeing for their lives with a bag $500 per person for a visa application. And we surely hope that they are able to exert diplomatic and economic pressure on the Taliban to meet their commitments.
Glenn: And what about your organization? And you? Are you in for the long haul? Is there a point where you guys will stop trying to rescue people?
Porter: We're in it for the long haul. We can continue to provide advice on how to navigate through the complexities of visa applications and to provide secure document backup for people that may want to store that with us in case they have to discard or destroy their documents. And we can keep advocating for our government to do the right thing and to apply that pressure to the Taliban to allow people to evacuate.
Glenn: Well, Richard, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
Porter: Thank you so much for having me.