OKLAHOMA CITY — The family of a wartime interpreter remains trapped inside Afghanistan despite the efforts of two Oklahoma veterans who had been working to get them out ahead of the United States’ withdrawal from the country.

Justin Chizmar, of Grove, said Wednesday afternoon that the family of the interpreter nicknamed Sam was unharmed, but remained in hiding in Afghanistan. He said the United States government did not evacuate the family ahead of its Aug. 31 withdrawal.

Chizmar and state Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, had been pressing federal officials to extract the family members following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban because of Sam’s service to the United States. Sam acted as Chizmar’s interpreter while he served in Afghanistan in 2011-2012. The two have remained in contact in the years since.

Sam has lived in America since 2015.

CNHI Oklahoma agreed not to identify him by his full name because of fears it would worsen the situation for his family if he’s identified as an American sympathizer.

Sam has previously said that when he signed up to work as a translator for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines, U.S. officials told him that he and his family would have support and safety. But when he applied for a visa to leave Afghanistan, American officials told him that his mother, father and siblings were not classified as family.

The abrupt fall of Afghanistan forced Sam’s family into hiding as the Taliban continues to search for people who worked with the U.S. government, American sympathizers, Afghan National Security Forces and journalists.

Sam’s family lived in a small Afghan village where neighbors knew they were American sympathizers. They also know that Sam worked with the U.S. government and had immigrated to America. When the Taliban swept through the village, soldiers “marked” his family home.

West, the lawmaker, said he hasn’t heard anything back from the U.S. government in over a week.

He said at this point Sam’s family is going to have to figure out how to get themselves out of the country because the United States is not in a position to help them. He said Sam’s family is likely going to have to try to cross the border into a surrounding country.

West said he’s “sick” that the United States’ evacuation effort ended despite the fact that American citizens remain stranded over there. He said he seriously doubts the federal government’s assertion that any Americans wanted to stay.

“I think we have people over there that are not able to get out,” he said.

West said he’d also been working to extract the family members of dozens of additional U.S. citizens who had obtained visas but were unable to get out ahead of the U.S. deadline for withdrawal.

The situation particularly grates, West said, because the military teaches soldiers not to leave anyone behind.

“We left our own over there,” West said. “There’s a lot of people disappointed. I think everybody is just frustrated. They’re frustrated because they’re fighting, they’re trying to help our allies. And then they’re also fighting this rhetoric that we’re opening the floodgates to a bunch of terrorists, and that’s not the case.”

He said Afghanis, who worked with Americans or have family overseas, should delete all American numbers from their phones because he’s heard that the Taliban is seizing cell phones and searching them for American contacts in an effort to find out who worked with America and its allies.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.


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