CHICAGO — For two decades, as the conflict in Afghanistan wore on, U.S. troops, diplomats and aid workers were helped by another type of army — the citizens of Afghanistan. They provided invaluable help as language interpreters, logistical coordinators and community relations liaisons.
One example among the tens of thousands is Adel Haqyar, 47, who worked for a decade as a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development
“I started my work with the Americans from March 2002,” Haquar said.
He recalls the excitement of the mission, despite the enormous risks.
“I believed the Americans, and NATO for Afghanistan, was a chance for development,” he said.
He said the Taliban made it clear, anyone who assisted the American effort would be beheaded. He assisted in the continuous counterinsurgency effort anyway because he believed a partnership with the U.S. would lead to an open and free future – and a path out of poverty.
“We were trying to build a relationship with the local people to the government,” he said.
But in 2016, he found himself facing sudden danger the Taliban, who had threatened to behead him. He fled the country with his wife and four children.
Haqyar’s work with USAID earned him a special immigrant visa and he eventually made it to the U.S., settling in Chicago.
He said he hoped that his family would soon follow.
“It was a very, very difficult time,” he said. “My heart was burning from inside.”
The wheels of bureaucracy had ground to a halt and his family was stranded in a refugee camp in Greece for nearly five years. This year the family’s refugee status was about to expire.
As the U.S. ended the war last August, retired U.S. Army captain Paul Curlee, who served in various locations across the Middle East and now leads the military veterans’ network at Ernst & Young where he works as a consultant in Chicago, decided he had to assist the Afghan people who had aided the U.S.
“Some of those people are having difficulty not only making it to, “ Curlee said. “They’re having difficulty getting out of the country.”
He connected with RefugeeOne a Chicago-based resettlement organization, and they asked him to help with Haqyar’s case. He helped Haqyar get settled in Rogers Park and got started working with his network of veteran’s to help reunite Haqyar with his family.
“Paul Curlee called his senator,” said U.S. Sen Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, a fellow U.S. Army veteran who lost her legs in combat in Iraq. Duckworth said she immediately felt the obligation of a soldier’s solemn vow “leave no one behind,” and used the weight of her office to cut through the red tape.
“It’s the best part of my job,” Duckworth said. “That I get to do this and make the calls, and push and prod and cajole and threaten do whatever I need to help people. As a fellow soldier, I knew you don’t leave your buddies behind. Adel certainly didn’t leave Americans behind when he worked along Americans for ten years in Afghanistan — we can’t leave him behind.”
Thanks to the senator and the soldier, the Haqyar’s are together again — in their new home Chicago.
“It was unbelievable,” Haqyar said. “You can imagine after five years when you hug your family. How is it feeling? It was, I cannot explain it.”
According to RefugeeOne, since the end of the war, some 1500 Afghans have resettled in Chicago.
But there are still an estimated 60,000 Afghans who have worked with American forces — and applied for visas – who are still in Afghanistan, according to the United Nation’s Refugee Agency.
“I want to thanks to all the people who helped me in the government of America to open that window that io could bring my family, “ Haqyar said. “I want to ask from any person who has power to help the people who stayed behind, because many people were working for you, and working to save the life of your soldiers, they are struggling with this government.”