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With soldier's help, Afghan interpreter and family land in U.S.

Oct. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Matt Zeller, then a captain, with his interpreter Janis Shinwari.
Matt Zeller, then a captain, with his interpreter Janis Shinwari. (Courtesy of Matt Zeller)
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The Afghan interpreter credited with saving the life of an Army intelligence officer has been granted a visa and arrived in the United States with his family today.

Vet Matt Zeller said the interpreter, Janis Shinwari, who saved him by killing an approaching insurgent in 2008, landed in Washington, D.C., with his family after a multi-stage flight from Afghanistan.

Shinwari will live 10 minutes from Zeller in Alexandria, Va., and is “thrilled to finally start his new and very well earned life in the U.S.,” Zeller said in a letter to supporters and the press.

“I cannot thank you adequately for all you did to help bring him home,” Zeller said. “I will remain forever in your debt.”

As the Shinwari family starts over in America with next to nothing, Zeller is seeking donations on the web site Fundly.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is arranging the family’s resettlement and housing. Members of the Truman National Security Project, to which Zeller belongs, have also made donations.

Zeller and Shinwari are invited to speak to members of Congress on Nov. 5 at the Capitol about reforming the backlogged interpreter visa program, which ultimately enabled Shinwari to come to the U.S. Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project Director Katherine Reisner is also speaking.

In the run-up to his exodus from Afghanistan, U.S. officials polygraphed Shinwari twice and issued his family visas three hours after the government shutdown ended, according to Zeller.

Out of fear from the Taliban for his assistance to U.S. forces, Shinwari and his family had been moving early every day.

After two years of waiting, the family got their visas from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September, only to learn days later that the visas were frozen.

By then, Shinwari had sold his home and possessions, and had to go back into hiding.

Zeller’s Change.org petition to help Shinwari, media attention and pressure from several Democratic members of Congress brought an end to the red tape.

Zeller credits Rep. Jim McDermott, Wash.; Rep. Louise Slaughter, N.Y.; Rep. Dan Maffei, N.Y.; Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Ore.; Sen. Tim Kaine, Va.; and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, N.H., for pressuring senior administration officials, the State Department and director of National Intelligence.

“Without their efforts, Janis wouldn’t be here—and for that they have my and his eternal gratitude,” Zeller said. “They remain personal heroes and the best examples of service and leadership.”

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