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'I cannot leave that person behind': Missouri veteran still fighting to get Afghan comrade to safety

Retired Air Force veteran Jeff Hoffman says the family of eight could be killed should the Taliban find out who they are.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — If the Taliban figures out who the Amiri 8 are, Jeff Hoffman is afraid they will be killed.

The retired Air Force veteran gave the Amiri family the moniker to protect their identities after he said their patriarch risked all of their lives to help American soldiers like him during the war in Afghanistan.

Now, one year after the U.S. withdrew from the country, Hoffman said he is still trying to return the favor.

“You don't hear about anymore Osama Bin Laden's from Afghanistan that are bombing America,” Hoffman said. “It's because of what we did starting back in Operation Enduring Freedom."

That work wouldn’t have been possible without the help of soldiers like Col. Amiri, Hoffman said.

“So now his life, because of what he's done, is in jeopardy,” Hoffman said. “They are executing people just like Colonel Amiri because of how they helped the United States. And I can't leave that person behind.”

The Amiris are part of a prioritization system that the State Department developed to form a line of sorts for Afghan refugees. That system allows refugees like Col. Amiri to come to America with their spouses and unmarried children younger than 21 years old, Hoffman said.

“Well, you tell me how many Americans that we fought with back in 2010, 2011, don't have kids that they need to bring over here that are actually older than 21 and still living with them,” Hoffman said. “When we suddenly just left, we left thousands and thousands of people that we would love to bring over and protect.

“He would have to choose to leave his other son and family of five behind. And in Afghanistan, they share the same last name. His oldest son has received death threats and lives in a different city than Col. Amiri already, but still receives death threats and has witnessed directly executions in his town of former officers.”

So, the Amiri 8 wait.

And hide.

“I feel like I’m on house arrest in my own home,” said Col. Amiri, who spoke to 5 On Your Side via an encrypted messaging system. “I am scared. I do not have guests. I do not go anywhere.”

Hoffman said Amiri played a critical role in his mission in Afghanistan.

“When you're actually engaging one-on-one with the warlords that are going to actually sculpt that country into a friendly place, you have to earn their love and trust,” Hoffman said. “And in order to do that, you use people like Col. Amiri, who has earned the respect of those tribes.”

Hoffman has settled in Jefferson City, but his heart is still with the Amiri 8.

He's teamed up with a non-governmental organization or NGO “American Duty” to help fundraise to get the family much-needed supplies and pay for the cost of evacuation.

Hoffman said he has written to Sen. Roy Blunt, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer and the State Department about Amiri’s plight, but can’t get any answers.

Luetkemeyer and Blunt’s office did not respond to questions from 5 On Your Side.

The State Department sent a statement, which read:

“Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan is enduring. We will support Afghans in as many ways as we can by providing humanitarian assistance in partnership with the international community. We continue to receive and process submissions for Afghans who may be eligible for referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. We also continue to identify ways to support other Afghans at risk, including women, children, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, members of minority groups, and journalists. This effort is of the utmost importance to the U.S. government. We recognize it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to depart Afghanistan or find a way to enter a third country, and may face significant challenges fleeing to safety. The United States continues to call for safe passage for all those who wish to leave Afghanistan. We call on the Taliban to allow freedom of movement for all Afghans and strongly encourage Afghanistan’s neighbors and other countries to allow entry for Afghans seeking protection. While we cannot comment on individual cases, as of August 2021, more than 7,500 P-1 referrals have been accepted into the system as complete. USRAP case processing can begin after a case has been accepted into the system, the applicant has relocated to a country where processing can occur, and been assigned to a Resettlement Support Center.”

Despite the delays, Amiri said he doesn’t regret helping the United States.

Hoffman said he still is by giving intelligence officials information about how the Taliban is moving undocumented people in and out of the country.

“They put their life on the line every day to do it,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman ends every conversation he has with Amiri with the Afghani phrase: “Shona ba Shona.”

It translates to “shoulder to shoulder,” in English.

Hoffman hopes someone will help him stand shoulder to shoulder with Amiri on American soil, soon.

“I just I fear that I'm going to get that, that call from his son one day or that text from his son saying Dad's not going to be contacting you anymore,” Hoffman said. “And at that point in time, we failed.

“But we're going down swinging and we're going to do everything we can and in the meantime, do everything we can to get them over here.”

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