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A U.S. combat veteran tries to help former colleagues escape the Taliban

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's been six months since the U.S. made a sudden and chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan in that chaos. Tens of thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. military forces during the war were left behind. They've been reaching out for help to American veterans of the Afghan war, and those calls are getting more desperate. NPR's Quil Lawrence has this report.

CHRISTY BARRY: Currently on my roster, I'm trying to help 17 families.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Lt. Col. Christy Barry did two tours in Afghanistan. She specialized in Afghan language and culture. Over the years, she's helped two of her former interpreters flee to America. But since the U.S. pullout in August, the pleas for help are constant.

BARRY: I'm who they know. I'm their direct link. And I get these messages of despair every day, every day.

LAWRENCE: One family stands out, though - an Afghan army general that Barry worked with, who not only fought against the Taliban but called out corruption within his own Afghan government.

BARRY: There were a small number that, really, were trying to do the right thing by us and by their country. He really went above and beyond to support us.

LAWRENCE: Barry says the general hadn't made any plans to escape Afghanistan if the Taliban took over. He hadn't even renewed his passport. He wanted to stay and fight.

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL: (Non-English language spoken).

LAWRENCE: The general spoke to NPR from a safe house in Afghanistan. For his protection, we're not using his name.

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL: (Through interpreter) What I was thinking - we were thinking that, you know, we should defend the country. We should work for democracy in Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: The general worked closely with Americans. He says over the years, he saw many Taliban officials in U.S. detention, and they saw the general. Now the Taliban are looking for him.

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL: (Through interpreter) They all know me face-to-face. Right now those individuals are all in power. And there's a death threat to me, to myself and to my family, as well. Today, just I got the news that they had gone to my house and had asked - the Taliban had asked my younger son that, where's your dad? It happened 10 o'clock today.

LAWRENCE: Christy Barry has pictures of the Afghan general's family, including his son.

BARRY: What is really hard is the general has a son that is my son's age. And when he sent me pictures of - his son looks like my son. Like, if my son were Afghan, that's what he would look like.

LAWRENCE: Barry put in an application for the general and 15 members of his family back in August. Because of his many years of helping the U.S. mission, he qualifies for a Priority 1 visa. But a State Department spokesperson told NPR those visas currently take 12 to 18 months at best.

BARRY: And I - we don't have time. He's a high-value target. Like, the Taliban went to his house, looking for him by name.

LAWRENCE: The State Department spokesperson said individuals with urgent protection needs should follow procedures to register for international protection and assistance with the government of the country they are in. To state the obvious, the general can't do that. The government is now the Taliban.

BARRY: They're stuck. They're totally stuck.

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL: (Non-English language spoken).

LAWRENCE: The general admits he's losing hope.

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL: (Through interpreter) Madam Christy Barry did all her best, but it has been six months that I'm stuck as a prisoner in my house. Maybe I will not be able to stay alive and help my family. Another short time - within a short time, probably I will be hunted down by the Taliban.

LAWRENCE: Hunted down by the Taliban. Christy Barry says this month, she got a generic email from the State Department asking her to submit the applications for the general and his whole family all over again.

BARRY: I don't want to cry because I hate to cry, but I'm so frustrated. I'm angry. Like, this is - because there are people that risked their lives to support us that believed in what we were doing. And it made me never want to put on my military uniform again because it made me feel like a liar.

LAWRENCE: Barry says she wasn't lying when she promised she would protect the Afghans who helped her during the war. But it's a promise she can't keep without urgent action now by the U.S. government. Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF REGINA MIRA'S "OCTOBER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.