Meet the ‘Terps’ of the American Military

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they had a difficult time in the conflict against the Mujahideen fighters. The Soviet troops were completely unfamiliar with the landscape, and it resulted in a devastating loss similar to the United States’ experience after the Vietnam War. To most readers, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is another history fact that can be kicked to the curb. However, those people should note the lesson learned from that catastrophe has been influencing how the world operates for decades.

At the time, the Soviets were supporting an unpopular government — meaning that they did not have the support nor the wisdom of the local citizens. However, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they were able to rely on myriads of citizens who risked everything they loved to help the American effort. These people were — and still are — heroes in every form of the word because they accompanied American troops on the front lines of a decades-long war with no clear end. The New York Times reported that time after time, the citizens interpreted radio communications, supplied transportation over difficult terrain, and did even more for a fraction of what they deserved. The Times, cognizant of the heroic work of the Afghan people, gave them high praise by describing them as “the eyes and ears of the American military.”

The work of the Afghan people has also caught the respect of countless numbers of service members who operated overseas. It has been reported by The New York Times that many service members gave colloquial nicknames like Max and Tony to the heroic Afghan citizens in order to manifest their respect for them. However, these ‘Terps’ have not gotten the same recognition in the United States.

Based on the current climate about the topic, it is clear that Americans have been exploiting the difficult labor of the Afghan people in order to live in a more favorable world. What makes the situation even harder to swallow is that the United States has made it incredibly difficult for these gallant people to obtain a Special Immigrant Visa when their lives are in peril.

Many people are probably unfamiliar with Special Immigrant Visas because they are a relatively new occurrence. They were created in 2008 to help some — but not most — Afghan citizens who are being persecuted in their home countries for helping the US military. Just the fact that the United States is helping some of the people may put readers at ease, but the thousands of people excluded from the visas are essentially on a death sentence. The people who do not get the visa have their family members kidnapped, assaulted, or killed. If that alone does not emotionally traumatize the person, then the aggressors ask for an unpayable ransom worth thousands of dollars. That cycle has been repeating for decades due to American inaction and negligence.

The Special Immigrant Visa program has objectively been sparingly used in comparison to the amount of people who help the American troops in Afghanistan. The US Department of State reported in fiscal year 2011 that they only gave out three Special Immigrant Visas, 0.2% of what they planned to give out and nowhere near representative of how many people were — and still are — in danger. 

Another obstacle the Afghan people have to face is dramatic changes in United States policy regarding immigration. In 2017, The New York Times interviewed a man from Iraq in response to President Donald Trump implementing a travel ban that prohibited all Iraqi people from entering the United States. The man, who identified as Ahmed A., had worked for the American military in Iraq and already had a Special Immigrant Visa. However, due to the travel ban, his flight to the United States was cancelled; he was left scrambling to find basic necessities after previously selling his home and quitting his job.

It should be extremely painful for the American people to see that these people — valiant in every form of the word — are being treated this way with no remorse. However, readers in the United States are probably lost in figuring out how they can help. Like all topics, awareness and attention are crucial in order for there to be a public discussion about the subject. Listening to the stories of these people is one of the most powerful things someone could do to resolve this issue, only second to the stouthearted act of being the wind to the seeds.