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"We will find you and we will kill you": Afghan interpreters face threats as U.S. plans mass-evacuation

Afghan interpreters hope for new start in U.S.
Afghan interpreters hope for a new, safer life when U.S. troops leave 02:30

Kabul — Omid Mahmoodi risked his own life to save the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan. He told CBS News that the Americans he worked with seemed to understand that, and appreciate it.

"When I come to the base, all the U.S. advisors, they hug me and they kiss me and they told me, 'From now, you are not our interpreter, from now you are my brother.'"

Now Mahmoodi's life is on the line again, and he's running out of time for his old friends and brothers to return the good will, and rescue him.

"Time is running out," he told CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata. "If we are left behind, we will get slaughtered by the Taliban."

CBS News on front lines with Afghan Army, uprising fighters who are battling Taliban takeover 02:18

A U.S. Army captain cited an incident when Mahmoodi identified an Afghan soldier plotting to kill American troops. The captain said his actions had "without a doubt prevented an attack."

Mahmoodi is one of 18,000 interpreters in Afghanistan whose fate hangs in the balance as the State Department works to figure out a way to get them and their families out of the country as soon as possible. It will require an airlift of between 60,000 and 70,000 people — a mammoth task.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said recently that they would all be "relocated to a location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown, by September, in order to complete the visa application process."

The plan emerging in Washington to evacuate the Afghans to a still-to-be-determined third country or countries remain murky. But the Taliban death threats that the translators face at home in Afghanistan are crystal clear, and they're personal.

"I receive a lot of phone calls from them," Mahmoodi said. "They told me: 'Soon we will come to Kabul and we will find you and we will kill you."

With U.S. forces pulling out, the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated so badly and so swiftly that nowhere, and no one, is safe from Taliban reprisal. Interpreters who've worked for foreign military forces top the militants' target list.

As U.S. troops draw down in Afghanistan, ongoing Taliban offensive takes ground from Afghan forces 01:33

Omidullah was barely 19 years old, with zero military experience, when he found himself in the deep end with U.S. Marines.

"They dropped me from [a] helicopter into the desert," he recalled. "As soon as the helicopter took off, mortars… rockets, everything." 

He told D'Agata of a single day on which he and the American Marines with whom he was embedded were ambushed by the Taliban 24 times. "We couldn't believe that we will stay alive here. Every single day we were facing death... IEDS, RPGs, rockets, everything."

"I got shot in Kabul city while I was on a mission… I've been to more than 15 suicide attacks," he said, before pointing to his head and adding: "I'm not feeling well right now." 

After being embedded with U.S. Marines in Helmand Province during some of the worst fighting of the 20-year war, Omidullah shows clear signs of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The Taliban have said that Afghan interpreters will not be in danger, as longs as they "show remorse" for their treason against country and religion.

"Would anyone believe that?" asks Omidullah, almost laughing. "I will never believe them… They are always lying."  

Afghan official calls trusting Taliban a "miscalculation" 02:31

Now the only way to get Omidullah, Mahmoodi and thousands of other Afghans like them out of their country and to safety is with the mass-evacuation.

President Biden promised last week that the Afghans who have risked so much to help the United States, "are not going to be left behind."

As the military withdrawal continues apace, just how the U.S. plans to make good on that promise remains unclear, and the clock is ticking.

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