Gulf Coast Marine spearheading efforts to evacuate interpreters from Afghanistan
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It is a long way from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Afghanistan, where America fought its longest war. When the war came to an end almost three months ago, a new battle unfolded for one Marine.
He realized he needed to do something when the man who saved his life fell victim to Taliban persecution.
Former Marine Sergeant Moises Espinal of Long Beach, Mississippi, did two nine-month tours in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011 and believed in the mission.
“Just about every school-age boy and girl were attending school which we hadn’t seen before,” said Espinal.
While fighting the Taliban, Sgt. Espinal and U.S. forces also attempted to build a new modern nation.
“It’s a beautiful country. One of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen,” said Espinal.
He had a budget that was used to build schools and improve water systems, but there was also bloodshed.
“On our second deployment we lost 17 marines and had 200 wounded,” Espinal said.
Espinal believes the death toll could have been much worse if it wasn’t for his interpreter, Anil Adnadi, nicknamed Lucky.
Espinal says Lucky helped him communicate and navigate in a strange and hostile land, often fighting right beside him and his fellow marines.
”Most of these guys have seen five to seven months of severe combat in some of the most kinetic levels of Afghanistan,” said Espinal.
In August 2021, though he was back home, Espinal felt he had to begin a new fight after absorbing the disappointment of the fall of Afghanistan and the Taliban push into the capital of Kabul.
“It was impossible for them to make it through the crowds and get through the gate,” said Espinal. He and a couple of American and British army veterans formed a group called ‘Allied Extract’ to help get hundreds of Afghan interpreters and Americans out of a country where they faced Taliban persecution.
“They will look through your phone to see if there were any English-speaking messages and at that point, you would either get beat or they would make you disappear,” said Espinal.
Espinal, a CPA in civilian life, organized a fundraising effort that paid for buses, hotels, and safe houses to shepherd dozens of former interpreters and stranded Americans out of Afghanistan.
The initial plan was to get them to the main airport, but after the fall of Kabul and the American withdrawal from the airport, the plan shifted to extricate them through the northern part of the country.
“We were able to get 140 people on buses and move them from Kabul over to Mazar Sharif,” Espinal said.
It was no easy task and Espinal says it required the payment of bribes nearly every step of the way.
“The first checkpoint was like $300 for two buses, the second was a little lower,” he said.
While the operation succeeded in getting dozens out, Espinal’s own interpreter ‘Lucky’ was left behind.
“I still had my personal interpreter there and we had to get the ball moving to get these people out,” he said.
Through a large international network, which included a team inside Afghanistan, ‘Allied Extract’ came up with a plan to get Lucky and his family out through Afghan’s northern province, but it was fraught with danger.
“For the longest time there was no movement,” he said.
But then, a bus managed to get to Lucky and pick him up along with his wife and brother.
They finally got out of Afghanistan.
The former interpreter and his family are now safe at a U.S. base in Abu Dhabi.
Espinal is relieved.
Though his immediate future is uncertain, Lucky hopes he is fortunate enough to ultimately make it back to the U.S. and wouldn’t mind settling on the Gulf Coast not far from the Marine sergeant who helped win his freedom.
“I want to live in a city where my brother Espinal is living,” Lucky told FOX 8.
Though Lucky and his family are now out of Afghanistan, Espinal says there’s still work to do.
“In Kabul, they’re saying women can go to school and go to work but they’re not allowing women to walk the street. As soon as we get the interpreters out, the shift will be to help out at-risk women,” said Espinal.
Espinal says funding for his effort is running low.
“Donations have dried up. Afghanistan became yesterday’s news,” he said. “It is so heartbreaking, I feel for all the parents of lost kids and Afghanistan and all the parents who had kids wounded.”
For now, he says Taliban persecution is strong. The government is promising to bring back executions and amputations.
“I truly believe we are worse off now than we were in 2001,” he said.
Espinal remains hopeful that someday the seeds planted by the Americans will take root.
“I hope those kids that I saw there have an opportunity to be kids... to go to school and seek the profession they are choosing,” said Espinal.
Sgt. Espinal and his group have been able to get more than 200 people out of Afghanistan. He remains committed to an operation to move as many people out as possible in order to keep them safe. If you would like to help, you can go to their website alliedextract.org.
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