The Afghan interpreter who helped then-Senator Joe Biden when his helicopter had to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan has evacuated the country.
Aman Khalili spent weeks in hiding before U.S. military veterans and aid groups helped him and his family cross the border into Pakistan last week, according to a report published Monday by The Wall Street Journal.
“After 144 hours of driving day and night and getting through so many checkpoints my family was so scared, but right now this is a kind of heaven,” Khalili, who worked for U.S. contractors for years, told the WSJ. “Hell was in Afghanistan.”
Khalili was part of a rescue mission in 2008 that helped then-Sens. Biden, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, whose helicopters were forced to make emergency landings due to a snowstorm in the region.
Khalili pleaded with President Joe Biden to help him escape the Taliban after he and his wife and five children were rejected from entering the gates of the Kabul airport. Khalili’s special immigrant visa application was turned down in 2016 after he was let go by a defense contractor, but U.S. veterans helping him said the rejection was caused by a misunderstanding, according to the WSJ.
“Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family,” he told the WSJ as U.S. forces exited the country. “Don’t forget me here.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to Khalili’s request, saying the U.S. government would get him out of Afghanistan.
Khalili was rescued with the help of an Afghan-American linguist who worked with U.S. forces, the WSJ reported. A number of private evacuation efforts that worked with U.S. veterans groups on the ground also mobilized to get Khalili to a safe house and, eventually, with the help of nonprofit organizations, into Pakistan.
Some of the veterans who supported Khalili’s rescue said that the Biden administration provided insufficient assistance in the effort.
Biden administration officials told the WSJ that their options were limited as evacuations were dependent on the Taliban’s cooperation.
“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 Biden administration official told the WSJ.
A White House official told the WSJ that Biden was briefed numerous times on Khalili’s case. U.S. officials also told the WSJ that Suzy George, chief of staff to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was tasked with accelerating Khalili and his family’s paperwork to ensure their entry into the U.S.
Khalili expressed gratitude to the president and asked to personally thank him upon his arrival to America.
“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.”
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