An Afghan interpreter who helped in the rescue of then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2008 from a valley in Afghanistan has finally escaped from the Taliban-controlled country after being left behind in initial US evacuations.
Aman Khalili, who was previously identified by his official first name, Mohammed, for security reasons, left Afghanistan and crossed into Pakistan with his family last week, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Khalili and his family spent weeks in hiding following the end of the US troop withdrawal and initial evacuation efforts in August.
While the US had been able to evacuate thousands from the country before the deadline, hundreds of Americans and allies remain in Afghanistan, which is now under the rule of the Taliban.
At the end of August, Khalili made a direct appeal to the president, asking Biden to save him and his family.
“Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family,” he said. “Don’t forget me here.”
Over the past six weeks, US veterans worked alongside former Afghan soldiers and Pakistani allies to get Khalili and his family out. They traveled over 600 miles across Afghanistan to escape.
Brian Genthe, a combat veteran who worked with Khalili in Afghanistan, called the interpreter “a blessing.”
“Aman helped keep me and other Americans safe while we were fighting in Afghanistan, and we wanted to return the favor,” he said.
In 2008, then-Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Biden were all aboard a pair of US Army Black Hawk helicopters that were forced to land in the Afghan mountains during a snowstorm where they were vulnerable to a Taliban attack.
Khalili, who was 36 at the time, was working as an interpreter with the US Army and joined a motorcade responding to the senators’ call for help. According to soldiers, the group braved more than 100 firefights in the valley.
At the time of his plea to Biden, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she appreciated the man’s role in helping rescue the president — and that the US will try to help him leave Afghanistan.
“Our message to him is thank you for fighting by our side for the last 20 years. Thank you for the role you played in helping a number of my favorite people out of a snowstorm and for all the work you did,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
She added: “Our commitment is enduring — not just to American citizens, but to our Afghan partners who have fought by our side — and our efforts and our focus right now is… to the diplomatic phase. We will get you out. We will honor your service.”
Khalili and his family made it out of Afghanistan on Oct. 5, after weeks of failed attempts from veterans, employees of conservative commentator Glenn Beck, and the Human First Coalition to save them.
According to the Journal, some of the veterans who assisted in the evacuation efforts slammed the Biden administration for not doing enough to help Khalili and others in similar situations.
Administration officials blamed restrictions imposed by the Taliban as a reason for their lack of efforts.
“People see a compelling human-interest story, and they imagine that there is some special set of things we can do that will enable us all to get that person and family out of harm’s way on an expedited basis when, in reality, there are limitations to what we can do, especially as a government, when compared to some private actors,” a senior administration official said.
Suzy George, chief of staff to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, has been charged with overseeing Khalili’s case and fast-tracked his request for a special immigration visa and paperwork he and his family will need to enter the US.
Khalili and his family are set to fly to Doha, Qatar Monday on a US military plane, after Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman requested Pakistani approval during her previously planned visit to Islamabad.
“If we get the chance, we will greet the president and thank him for his assistance and for his promise,” Khalili said. “We are so grateful to America for completing its promise.”