Looking for better pay, Osman Mohammad walked away from the Afghan National Army (ANA) and became one of thousands of privately contracted interpreters that work alongside International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Without these local interpreters, ISAF would be unable to effectively communicate with national security forces and civilians alike.
"American soldiers do not speak Pashto or Dari," said Mohammad, while standing with his face partially concealed at Forward Operating Base Bostick, Kunar province on February 11, 2010. "Interpreters are the only connection between American soldiers and Afghans."
According to several interpreters employed by Mission Essential Personnel (MEP), this Afghan connection has fallen into disrepair. Based inside the US, MEP employs more than 4,000 employees worldwide. In Afghanistan, issues ranging from safety to disability benefits have strained relationships between contracted local national interpreters and ISAF. A few interpreters have tried to speak out, but claim their voices were ignored by MEP supervisors.
Haroom Safi, an Afghan interpreter under contract with MEP, explained why many interpreters have become frustrated and angry. "On the battlefield the Americans listen to what we are saying," said Safi. "When the shooting stops, we are forgotten." In eastern Afghanistan, such feelings of neglect may have escalated to murder. Last month, an Afghan interpreter shot and killed two US soldiers at a combat outpost located in Wardak province. A subsequent investigation revealed the shooter had argued with both victims about working conditions.Words and Photo by James Lee