I never thought I'd owe my life to an Afghan man, but here I am. Janis served as my personal interpreter throughout my 2008 deployment as an embedded combat adviser to the Afghan National Security Forces in Ghazni. More importantly, Janis served as my guide to the Afghan people and culture. I consider him a lifelong friend and a combat brother. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here -- it's that simple.
Janis saved my life on more than one occasion -- be it through the intelligence he gathered, the warnings he passed, or by shooting at the Taliban who were trying to overrun our position during the worst ambush of my life. Janis has not just saved my life, he has saved the lives of countless American soldiers. And come 2014, as American combat troops pull out of Afghanistan, I cannot bear to think what might happen to Janis.
Many Afghan analysts have already declared the war a lost cause -- some have even called for an earlier American withdrawal than 2014. But lost in the discussions of grand strategy are the Afghan people, signified for me by Janis. What happens to all the Afghans who aren't rooting for a Taliban comeback -- i.e. our allies, who have worked alongside us for the past decade?
The simple answer is, like Janis, they must either flee or die. The Taliban do not have a reconciliation program, aren't known for their mercy and will likely make a sport of executing collaborators like Janis as they reassert their control over wide swaths of Afghanistan. But it doesn't have to end up like that. Janis, and all the other Afghans like him, don't have to die. We owe it to Janis to take him with us as we withdraw.
Many will point out that Janis, as a U.S. interpreter, has a formal path to a visa given his long service to our cause. But what they fail to realize is that lethargy and overwhelming bureaucratic ineptitude of issuing those visas plagues the program and make it nearly impossible to serve as Janis' salvation. Case in point -- Janis has been waiting for his visa for over two years.
I spent many a night learning about the Afghan people through Janis' stories and experiences. When I asked him what he wanted most in life, he told me he wanted peace for his people and that if that was not possible, he wanted to come to America and give his wife and child the sanctuary they crave. Janis has more than earned that chance.
Every time I look at my newborn daughter, I'm reminded I owe Janis for two lives: her's as well as my own. If we cannot bring peace to his people, the least we could do is honor his wishes and our promises and bring him with us when we leave.