Florida veteran is still working to bring Afghan translator home to the U.S.

Kate Cimini
Fort Myers News-Press
Najeeb Rahimi's three daughters wait outside the Kabul airport with their parents. August 21, 2021

Fort Myers veteran Jeff Trammell is still working day and night to evacuate his friend and former translator from Afghanistan.

Like so many fleeing the Taliban, translator Najeeb Rahimi and his wife and daughters are stuck outside the airport's walls, praying to get inside. And in the U.S., Trammell is working furiously to find a way to get the four of them on a plane.

Taliban militants discovered the family's hiding place this week, so they are now on the run. The Taliban are searching the houses of former U.S. military interpreters, using the biometrics the U.S. left behind to identify people. Rahimi's daughters are afraid to sleep because they are certain they will wake up to Taliban soldiers killing them, Rahimi said through sobs over the phone.

Previously:Struggling to get out of Afghanistan: Military interpreter tear gassed, beaten

What final US days in Afghanistan will look like:Scaling back evacuation flights, destroying weaponry

Since last week, Taliban security checkpoints have multiplied in Kabul, making it harder and harder to get to the airport. He and his family have stood outside the airport for 12 hours at a stretch, enduring gas attacks and beatings by guards. His daughters, 9, and twins who are 6, have been trampled by panicked crowds and vomited from the heat.

When he goes to the airport, he said, U.S. soldiers refuse to look at his documents even though "I worked with (them) as brothers." 

Trammell has slept only "a little" in the past few weeks, trying avenue after avenue to get Najeeb Rahimi and his family to safety. He has consulted with U.S. Army contacts and worked with Reps. Byron Donalds, who represents Southwest Florida, and Adam Schiff of California to prioritize Rahimi's visa.

Since Fort Myers News-Press first reported on Rahimi and Trammell's efforts to secure his family's safe passage, national print and television outlets have reported on his desperate efforts to escape death.

Still, Rahimi, who has applied for a Special Immigrant Visa, has not received approval. And after more than a week of trying, he has not been allowed inside the airport's gates.

"The reality ensuing is devastating, and U.S. citizens still on the ground in the Taliban-run region fear their lives," Donalds said in an emailed statement. "My office will not stop until all Americans are out of Afghanistan. While the Biden-Harris Administration has failed them, I will not.”

Zabidullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said Tuesday they would stop Afghans from trying to go to the Kabul airport in order to leave the country and told women to stay home for their safety.

"The way to the airport has been closed now. Afghans are not allowed to go there now. Foreigners are allowed to go," he said via a translator on BBC. "But we have stopped Afghan nationals (from going) because the crowd is more. There is danger that people will lose their lives. There might be stampede."

One of the main refugee groups resettling Afghan evacuees in the U.S. said many people, including some American citizens, still were finding it impossible to get past Taliban checkpoints and crushing throngs outside the airport.

“The United States cannot pat itself on the back for a job half-done,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.

The U.S. has evacuated about 58,700 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, and the Taliban have said they will not accept an extension of the Aug. 31 deadline. 

Trammell, a retired U.S. Army captain, has been frustrated by the Biden Administration's decision to pull out of Afghanistan before evacuating Afghans whose lives are at stake after working for the U.S. government. 

"It's infuriating," Trammell said. However, he added, he felt politics needed to be set aside for the moment to focus on evacuating the people most at risk.

He urged people to call their congressperson and advocate for Afghans trying to reach the U.S.

If Rahimi, his wife and daughters can't make it out of Afghanistan, Trammell's experience in Afghanistan tells him that Taliban will likely rape and behead Rahimi. Trammell said his children and wife will also be raped and sold into sex slavery or gifted to Taliban soldiers as wives.

The Associated Press and USA TODAY contributed to this story.

Kate Cimini is an investigative journalist. Share your story at (831) 776-5137 or email kcimini@gannett.com.