Northwest Indiana veteran fighting to save former interpreter trapped in Afghanistan

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DYER, Ind. — A U.S. Army veteran in Northwest Indiana is spending hours a day trying to save his friend and former interpreter who is trapped in Afghanistan.

Christopher McClanathan and Romal, whose last name is being withheld for his safety, became fast friends in 2011 while working together at Camp Mike Spann, located in the northern part of Afghanistan.

“He was 20 at the time and I was 23 – we were all about the same age, we were kids then,” McClanathan said.

Interpreters like Romal helped US forces get to know the locals and educated the troops about cultural differences. McClanathan said Romal and the other interpreters are one of the biggest reasons there were no major attacks at the gate of his base while he was there.

“When you’re out there, you have to depend on each other to have each other’s backs. One hundred percent. There can’t be any question about that,” he said.

When McClanathan returned home, their friendship turned to Facebook.

“Liking each other’s posts from a distance,” McClanathan said.

Until two weeks ago, when Chris saw the chaos unfolding in Kabul. McClanathan has been trying to get Romal, and the interpreter’s wife and mother, out ever since. They are hoping to get them on the evacuation list before the Taliban completes its takeover.

“He was pretty unequivocal – he said they’re gonna cut my head off and I believe that,” McClanathan said.

That’s the risk Romal takes every time he travels to Kabul’s airport.

“He got past the Taliban and the US forces wouldn’t let him in,” McClanathan said.

The United States promised interpreters like Romal protection with special immigrant visas for their help during the war. McClanathan showed WGN News Romal’s SIV application from May – but there’s no update on whether it will be granted.

“It’s a betrayal, really,” McClanathan said.

After all these years, McClanathan still has Romal’s back. But he fears this time it may not be enough.

“There are thousands of others like him who have put in years of their lives —  risked themselves every day to help us — only to get burned in the end. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave behind?” he said.

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