• Afghan interpreter granted American citizenship
  • Janis Shinwari saved at the lives of at least five American soldiers
  • Shinwari co-founded a non-profit working to get military interpreters stateside

A “hero” interpreter who saved the lives of American troops stationed in Afghanistan was granted American citizenship Monday (June 29).

Janis Shinwari, 42, worked with the U.S. military for eight years as an interpreter assigned to some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

Citizenship and Immigration Services acting director Ken Cuccinelli said it was an honor to swear Shinwari in as an American.

“During his service, he saved the lives of five American soldiers. That is not something many people can say,” Cuccinelli said.

Shinwari did not have combat responsibilities while working as an interpreter for the U.S. military but was forced to fight when Taliban forces ambushed the American unit he was assigned to in 2008.

Shinwari grabbed a rifle and rushed to reinforce his allies, who he met only 10 days before the ambush. He recalled saving the life of Army Captain Matt Zeller.

“I saw Matt Zeller, that he was alive in a ditch and there were two Taliban behind him to kill him,” Shinwari said. “I shot the two Taliban and I saved Matt Zeller's life.”

In a 2017 lecture with Shinwari at Hamilton College in New York, Zeller called Shinwari “the real veteran in the room.”

“I didn’t even know his name,” Zeller recalled. “Translators protected us better than our personal weapons.

Shinwari was marked for death by the Taliban. It took him and his family three years to get a visa to the United States and spent most of that time at a U.S. military base in Kabul for his own safety.

When he and his family arrived in the U.S. in 2013, he declined to accept $35,000 raised on a GoFundMe campaign for him and asked Zeller to help him set up No One Left Behind.

No One Left Behind is a nonprofit that works to get interpreters who worked alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan stateside and supports them with donations as they restart their lives in the U.S.

Shinwari told NPR that he viewed it as a responsibility to fulfill the “promise” of getting “gentlemen in Afghanistan” a U.S. visa after serving the military for two years. More than 18,000 interpreters are still waiting for visas.

Shinwari also said he was grateful for his new life.

“Once you are here, you're free,” he said.