Randy Schnell is a major in the United States Army Reserves who was deployed to Afghanistan twice. An Afghan interpreter that Schnell worked with is currently trying to flee the nation that has been recently taken over by the Taliban. His wife is nine months pregnant, making the struggle to escape exponentially more difficult.
Cameron Arcand spoke with Schnell to learn more about the nerve-wracking situation.
Please note that the first names of the Afghans mentioned in this interview have been changed to protect their privacy.
Cameron Arcand: What steps are you currently taking to work with the U.S. government and other resources to help your interpreter and his wife leave Kabul?
Randy Schnell: There’s actually quite a few steps. So first, I am connected with multiple networks. In each of these networks, it’s a mesh of veteran volunteers like myself who have the same skin in the game, being that we’ve got people that we know that are still trapped that we’re trying to get out.
We have some NGOs … Then we have active military and also other governmental personnel.
Since I know, and people like me know, the person that needs to be extracted, we’re the — kind of the liaison between these groups and the Afghans that we’re trying to get out.
CA: On a more personal level … can you share a little bit about the interpreter and the woman as well. Who are they as people?
RS: The interpreter’s name is Josh and his wife is Samantha. I won’t give out last names.
I met Josh when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 up in the bulk province — he was assigned to me. So I was a company commander and I had him and several other interpreters. What created our friendship actually was out of loyalty.
While I was there, our lead interpreter that we had was giving up our operational info to the Taliban that was operating in the area. He was giving up our info and another company. Josh was the one that came forward and gave information to us that this guy was doing that.
There was a couple of operations that could have resulted in a lot of casualties for us. But because of him and what he did, we were able to stop that and not have to worry about writing home to people’s parents.
We kept in touch after I left the theater. He stayed. Obviously, he wanted to build his country. We’ve been in and out of communications for the last couple of years, but recently in July is when he really reached out. I could tell he was worried … They were threatening to kill him and his family.
CA: You mentioned that you did also serve in Afghanistan. What do you think the military should be doing right now to help make the situation better?
RS: The military right now was put in a precarious position the moment that we had events set forth that caused us and allowed the Taliban to take over.
The airport is the only way that it’s in and out for these guys. If they lose that airport, or if that runway gets hit and is taken out of commission, how is that aircraft going to get out? I mean, they do have some rotary assets, but how far can those rotary assets go before they can land into a friendly area? I doubt they can get out of Afghanistan and they’re sure as hell not going to Pakistan. Even with aerial refueling, that’s a long trip.
I think they’re doing right by protecting the airport … We shouldn’t trust the Taliban. I know that those guys on the ground have no other choice because that’s what’s being imposed on them. How can we trust an enemy that’s been plotting to kill us, and has in some instances drawn blood from us?
There have been military/government/NGO teams that have gone outside the wire to start pulling people in. They should have done it sooner. I don’t understand why we waited until after we got to this point, to this week, to start doing that.
And we need to bring our Americans too. We cannot leave until we have all our American citizens back. I don’t buy the idea that there are people that don’t want to go.
CA: What’s your message to President Joe Biden and other American leaders who are calling the shots?
RS: My message is we need a leader that’s going to take responsibility, take accountability for the mistakes, the inactions that have happened, and get ahead of this thing and actually do some damn crisis management.
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