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Patricia McArdle: Extracting Farhad

By Patricia McArdle

With Farhad the day I bought a burkha in Mazar-e-Sharif’s central market.

America’s longest war is now officially over, but efforts to extract Afghans who worked for the U.S. continue. My former interpreter, Farhad, was recruited by the U.S. Army in 2003. He continued working for American and NATO forces until 2009, when he was hired by our Embassy as LLC Mazar director–a position he held until he and his family fled before the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

When the evacuations from Kabul airport began, I sought help from the State Department to get Farhad and his family out of Afghanistan. Although my efforts failed, this story has a happy ending.

In September, they were successfully transported across the border into Pakistan where they are awaiting permission to settle in the UK. This extraction was due entirely to the efforts of one British Army officer for whom Farhad worked the year before I arrived in Afghanistan.

With only three months of Dari language training, I couldn’t have done my job without Farhad’s language skills and his understanding of northern Afghanistan’s Byzantine politics.  Although I received a Superior Honor award for my reporting and negotiating, my cash award went to Farhad, since without his guidance, I would have accomplished very little.

I was not assigned to Afghanistan as a PD officer, but was asked by the embassy to establish a Lincoln Learning Center in Mazar. With Farhad’s help, the project was completed before I went home.

Farhad also helped me organize the visit of Rumi expert, Coleman Barks, America’s first cultural visitor to Afghanistan since our embassy closed in 1989. I’ll never forget the day we took Mr. Barks to see the ruins of Rumi’s madrassa in Balk. We sat in the sun eating oranges while Barks recited in English and Farhad translated Rumi’s poems for a group of students.

I returned from Afghanistan in December 2005 with a case of PTSD. I had survivor’s guilt after a group of young ISAF soldiers, ahead of me in a convoy, were killed by an IED explosion, but my vehicle was untouched by the explosion. Writing my novel Farishta (published by Penguin-Riverhead in 2011) has helped me deal with that trauma.¤

Patricia McArdle is a retired Foreign Service Officer.


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