For ten years, Mr. Mohammed Aris Rayan served as a trusted interpreter for US forces participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Fluent in Pashtu, Dari, and English, Mr. Rayan won praise for his knowledge, dedication, professionalism, and courage in the face of danger. His service spanned 2001 to 2010, the toughest part of the war, and ranged from dusty Kandahar to the snowy mountains of Zabul province. In a long, intense war against a brutal enemy, Mr. Rayan's critical insights often spelled the difference between life and death for American and international forces and their Afghan allies.
Yet while the Americans' families remained in the United States, far from the reach of the Taliban, Mr. Rayan's family remained vulnerable to reprisals. After the Taliban perpetrated several grisly murders targeting Afghans who helped foreigners - ISAF, UN, even charity and aid workers - Mr. Rayan, a dedicated family man, made plans for the care of his children if he should be killed, asking a trusted American coworker, Lieutenant Colonel Lisette Bonano, to adopt his four young daughters: Madina, Tahmina, Rayahna, and Zohal. He feared that the Taliban would rape them if captured, as they had done to many Afghan women who helped ISAF - or who were related to those who had. Although the Afghan government would not allow adoption, LTC Bonano agreed to care for his daughters in any way she could. Eventually, the United States established an expedited immigration program to allow interpreters to bring their families to America, where they would be safe. Accordingly, with LTC Bonano's help to expedite the paperwork, Mr. Rayan brought his four young daughters Tampa. LTC Bonano eased their transition to American life and culture, setting them up in an apartment and enrolling the girls in school. The young women became US citizens and pursued the American Dream, learning English and earning good grades. When LTC Bonano retired from the Army, she continued to help the family, teaching the girls - now young women - how to drive. Madina and Tahmina obtained work at the Dunkin Donuts by Busch Gardens and studied to be certified medical assistants. Both were drawn to careers in health care as a way of giving back to the community and to the country that had welcomed them and given them freedom and opportunities they never would have had in Afghanistan.
Madina, Tahmina, Rayahna, and Zohal enjoyed the freedom of religion America provided and maintained their Islamic faith. In accordance with Afghan custom, Madina and Tahmina had arranged marriages. Family and friends winnowed down the list of prospective suitors to ensure the best match for each. So it was that Madina married Mohammed Haider Ahmadi in 2018 and Tahmina married Mohammed Ismail Barikzai in India in 2020. The American-led ISAF intervention in 2001 had made Afghanistan freer and more prosperous than it had been since 1973, when Russian-backed Socialists deposed the pro-Western King Mohammed Zahir Shah, igniting a civil war that lasted over four decades. The family had every reason to expect that things would continue to improve.
But tragedy struck. Mr. Rayan contracted COVID-19 at the wedding party in November of 2020 and died within sixteen days of his diagnosis. Then in 2021, the Biden administration pulled all American forces out of Afghanistan, abandoning tens of thousands of Afghan allies and friends and handing the country and its people over to the brutal Taliban. In a policy described as a "retrograde to zero," not even embassy staff would remain in the country, and the United States likewise ordered the closure of all Afghan embassies and consulates in America. The immigration paperwork Mr. Rayan's new sons-in-law submitted would hang in limbo for years.
Meanwhile, both men had to hide from Taliban reprisals. Despite public promises of amnesty for former government officials and Afghan employees of ISAF and charity organizations, the Taliban embarked on a mad spree of revenge killings that has continued unabated to this day: arbitrary detentions, torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, all in a country whose new masters ignore or mismanage humanitarian crises, to include drought, economic collapse, famine, and major earthquakes.
Back in Tampa, Tahmina and Madina gave birth to a son, Mohammed, and a daughter, Sarah. Both children turn one year old this year. Determined to secure the safety of their husbands, Tahmina and Madina appealed to Dr. Lisette Bonano for help. A true soldier leaves no friend behind, and Dr. Bonano had helped - and continues to help - hundreds of Afghan and Iraqi allies flee the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Dr. Bonano had also worked as the human rights officer in the US Joint Staff, so she brought considerable talent and connections to bear, tirelessly pressing US officials to expedite the case. Dr. Bonano enlisted the aid of Senator Marco Rubio, who had the matter transferred from the closed US embassy in Kabul to the open one in neighboring Islamabad, Pakistan.
Mr. Ahmadi had filed all his paperwork in 2018, but only obtained his US visa on July 21st of this year. He is now making arrangements to come to the United States to attend his child's first birthday party, which takes place in August. Dr. Bonano intends to meet him at the airport with his family.
Mr. Barikzai is still waiting for his immigration interview, the last bureaucratic hurdle before approval of his visa, despite his paperwork being complete since August of 2020. Both Senator Rubio and Dr. Bonano are pressing for US immigration authorities to progress swiftly in this matter.
Both Tahmina and Madina Rayan thanked Senator Rubio and Dr. Bonano. Madina is thankful that her husband's case was approved but appealed to authorities and to the public not to forget the many Afghan allies who were left behind. "America is a land of freedom and great opportunity. We can be whatever we want to be if we work for it. We want our husbands home and our families united."
Dr. Bonano continues to fight to ensure no friend is left behind. Recently, she brought over another Afghan interpreter, Tawfiq, who now lives in Virginia. He returned to Afghanistan in 2021 to help his family, not knowing how soon the Afghan government we abandoned would collapse, nor how swiftly the Taliban would overrun its capital, Kabul. On the last day before the US pulled its troops out of Afghanistan, Dr. Bonano worked with former and current US service members to help Tawfiq, his brother, and his family to evade Taliban patrols and checkpoints to get to the Kabul airport, then fought through considerable red tape to get them to the front of the line for evacuation. Tawfiq and his family left on the flight just prior to the terrorist suicide bombing at the airport that killed 13 Marines. In a separate case, Dr. Bonano also facilitated the immigration of Rana, one of her Iraqi interpreters. Rana now lives in California and has earned two master's degrees.
Dr. Bonano currently is running for a seat in the Florida legislature for the newly redrawn District 67 (northeast Hillsborough County), to bring her talents to bear for freedom, security, and prosperity for all. Her web site is https://votedrlisettebonano.com/
Posted on 23 Jul 2022, 20:03 - Category: In The News