White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki vowed on Tuesday the US will evacuate an Afghan interpreter who rescued President Joe Biden from a remote valley in 2008, after he was abandoned when the last US military evacuation flight took off Monday.
Asked about the interpreter, Mohammed, in a press conference, Psaki broadly thanked him for his service but wouldn’t detail exactly how that service would be repaid.
‘Our message to him is: thank you for fighting by our side for the last 20 years. Thank you for the role you played, and helping a number of my favorite people out of the snowstorm, and for all the work you did.
‘And our commitment is enduring, not just to the American citizens but to our partners who have fought by our side.’
Psaki echoed other Biden officials’ statements that evacuating US citizens and allies from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is not ending but moving into a ‘diplomatic phase.’
‘We will get you out, we will honor your service, and we’re committed to doing exactly that,’ she said.
The press secretary did not elaborate on how the Biden administration intends to see that through.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki promised the US would get the Afghan interpreter who saved Joe Biden out but didn’t indicate a plan to do it
Then-Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan, February 20, 2008
Mohammed, going only by his first name for safety reasons, is hiding from the Taliban with his wife and four children after trying for years to get out of Afghanistan to no avail, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Mohammed, while working for the US Army, had a key role in a story often repeated – and embellished – by Biden during his 2008 run for vice president.
As senator, Biden was on board one of two Blackhawk helicopters that made an emergency landing in a blinding snowstorm, alongside then-Sens. John Kerry D-Mass., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Mohammed is one of the thousands of SIV applicants left behind. There were 88,000 SIV applicants and as of last week only 6,000 had gotten out.
A private security team with the former firm Blackwater and US Army soldiers stood watch for Taliban fighters as the crew called Bagram Air Base for help, where Mohammed jumped in a Humvee along with a force from the 82nd Airborne Division and drove hours into the mountains to rescue them.
The three senators were driven back to the base with the convoy.
‘Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family,’ Mohammed said, according to the Wall Street Journal. ‘Don’t forget me here.’
‘I can’t leave my house,’ he said on Tuesday. ‘I’m very scared.’
Kerry, left, is seen with Biden, right, during their visiting to the governor’s office in Asad Abad, the provincial capital of Kunar province east of Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008
Badri 313 units post for the cameras at Kabul airport today, carrying American-made rifles and wearing US military gear
Mohammed’s visa application reportedly stalled when the defense contractor he worked for lost records needed for his visa application. As the Taliban seized control on Aug. 15, Mohammed tried his luck at the Kabul airport gates but was turned away by US forces. They told him he could go but he’d have to leave behind his wife and children.
US soldiers say Mohammed was there alongside them for over 100 firefights.
The area of the rescue was not under Taliban control, but just one day before the three then-senators’ choppers went down, Taliban had killed nearly two dozen Taliban insurgents just 10 miles away.
‘We were going to send Biden out to fight the Taliban with snowballs, but we didn’t have to do it,’ Kerry joked after the senators’ rescue.
The trip was one of many that Biden, then chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took overseas with Kerry and Hagel, who went on to become secretaries of state and defense respectively under President Obama.
In a speech on the campaign trail, Biden said in 2008: ‘If you want to know where Al Qaeda lives, you want to know where (Usama) bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me. Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down with a three-star general and three senators at 10,500 feet in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are.’
‘It’s in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said, ‘where my helicopter was recently forced down.’
Army veterans have stepped in on Mohammed’s behalf to call for help. ‘If you can only help one Afghan, choose [Mohammed],’ wrote Shawn O’Brien, an Army combat veteran who worked with him in Afghanistan in 2008. ‘He earned it.’
The US has evacuated over 120,000 from Taliban rule since Aug. 14, including 5,500 Americans, but left behind somewhere between 100 and 200 Americans and thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked with the US military in its hasty exit.
The State Department has promised to use all diplomatic channels to continue evacuations without a troop or embassy presence.
A White House official declined to comment on Mohammed’s case for confidentiality reasons.
The ‘biggest airlift in history’ that left at least 250 Americans and thousands of Afghan allies stranded in Kabul
Head of US Central Command General Kenneth Frank McKenzie admitted the US military ‘did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out’ when he announced the final US troops had left Afghanistan on Monday.
He also defended the the decision to withdraw early by saying: ‘But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out and there still would’ve been people who would’ve been disappointed with that. It’s a tough situation.’
Since July the US has evacuated 122,000 people out of Kabul including 5,400 Americans. The State Department said on Monday there were at least 250 US citizens who wanted to get out who were still stranded.
Later on Monday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the number was between 200 and 100, but still couldn’t put an exact number on it.
He also admitted that Afghan SIV applicants who fought alongside US troops were left behind, but again didn’t give a number, and it could be in the thousands.
As of August 26, just 5,000 SIV applicants had been flown out compared to the 88,000 who are desperately trying to flee the Taliban.
In the last 18 days, 7,500 people have been flown out on flights each day, with evacuations halted for two of those days because of threats on the airport and the Kabul suicide attack.
The highest number of evacuations was 19,000 in a day – but the numbers have dwindled in the final days of the US military operation.
The White House and The State Department have been vague on how many SIV applicants or vulnerable Afghans are still trying to leave, but have promised to ‘help’, even though the military has gone.