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He Made a Plea to Biden. Now, an Interpreter Finds Safety

Aman Khalili, who helped rescue Biden after chopper's 2008 emergency landing, flees Afghanistan
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2021 11:43 AM CDT
Interpreter Who Helped Save Biden Flees Afghanistan
President Biden speaks outside the White House in Washington on Friday.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(Newser) – It took a 600-mile trek and weeks of hard work by US, Afghan, and Pakistani allies, but Aman Khalili and his family are finally safely out of Afghanistan. While the name of the ex-Afghan translator may not ring a bell for most, one person in particular knows it well: President Biden, whom Khalili helped save in Afghanistan in 2008, when Biden was a senator and his helicopter made an emergency landing during a snowstorm. The rescue effort for Khalili involved "weeks in hiding and a clandestine evacuation," per the Wall Street Journal, which documents the red tape and scramble by US veterans, former Afghan soldiers, and others to help Khalili and his family.

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A New York Daily News article from that year recalls the 2008 emergency landing of the chopper, which carried not only Biden, then a senator from Delaware, but also Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel. The senators had been visiting military bases in Afghanistan before the incident, which set them down in territory vulnerable to the Taliban. Khalili was part of the rescue team sent to help them. In August of this year, after the Taliban had taken over the country, Khalili mentioned Biden directly in a plea from the Kabul airport.

"Hello, Mr. President," Khalili, IDed as Mohammed then for security reasons, told the Journal. "Save me and my family. Don't forget me here." White House press secretary Jen Psaki assured Khalili that "we will get you out," but the exit scheme was riddled with roadblocks. For one, Khalili's wife and four of his children didn't have passports, which the Taliban insisted were needed for anyone trying to leave the country. Efforts by notable names like conservative pundit Glenn Beck and Blackwater founder Eric Prince to get Khalili and his family onto a plane out of Afghanistan kept getting delayed, with bad weather and Khalili's hesitancy at leaving without his entire family playing a part.

Finally, with help from the nonprofit Human First Coalition, Khalili and his family crossed into Pakistan on Oct. 5, after a tense six-day drive through various checkpoints. The clan was given approval to be flown to Qatar on Monday on a US military plane. Some of the US veterans who helped Khalili say the Biden administration could've done more to help, but at the moment, Khalili is simply relieved to be free. "My family was so scared, but right now this is a kind of heaven," he tells the Journal. "Hell was in Afghanistan." He adds, "If we get the chance, we will greet the president and thank him for his assistance and for his promise." Much more here. (Read more Joe Biden stories.)

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