A former Afghan interpreter who served with the U.S. Marines in his home country has earned the title of Marine.

Pfc. Aimal Taraki, who graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on April 7, said he was inspired to join the Corps by his time working with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, according to a Marine Corps news story.

“Growing up I was always interested in America and the western world, and was always very in tune with American culture,” Taraki said for the news story. “I applied for a translator job working with the troops because they were hiring local Afghan people. I worked with Marines and other NATO forces, which is what gave me the idea to move from Afghanistan.”

Taraki was born in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1994, when Afghanistan was in the midst of a civil war that brought the Taliban to power two years later. His family later fled to Pakistan, where he learned English.

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After spending about six years in Pakistan, his family returned to Afghanistan and settled in Kabul. Even though the Taliban were no longer ruling the country, they continued to carry out attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

“There’s a place called the Massoud Circle, which is right next to the U.S. Embassy [in Kabul],” Taraki said. “It was a perfect place for the Taliban to make an attack. They filled a car with explosives, and when they detonated it, I was sleeping. I remember waking up to the explosion and all of our windows were shattered even though we were several miles away.”

U.S. Marine Corps PFC Aimal Taraki poses for a photo at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, April 3, 2023. Taraki is a former translator who used to coordinate between U.S. and Afghan forces during the war in Afghanistan. Taraki emigrated to the U.S. in 2018 with the hopes of joining the Marine Corps.
U.S. Marine Corps PFC Aimal Taraki at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, April 3, 2023. (Lance Cpl. Alexander Devereux/U.S. Marine Corps)

The U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban and turn Afghanistan into a functioning democracy lasted 20 years, during which the Taliban insurgency only grew stronger as the war dragged on. Many brave Afghans worked for the American military, often risking their lives in combat to protect the troops they served with.

In 2016, Taraki decided to use the English language skills he developed in Pakistan to become an interpreter for the U.S. and other NATO troops. Two years later, he secured a visa that allowed him to come to the United States, where the rest of his family lives.

Taraki is lucky to have left Afghanistan before the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021. At least 78,000 Afghans who had applied for Special Immigrant Visas were left behind when the last U.S. troops departed the country, according to the Association of Wartime Allies, an advocacy group for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government

When he arrived in San Diego, he considered several options about what type of career he should pursue, but ultimately decided to repay the U.S. military for providing a path for him to start a new life in the United States.

 “I had a lot of different things I wanted to do with my life after I moved to the U.S.,” Taraki said. “I thought, ‘Should I go to college? Start my own business?’ I decided that I can do any job and have any career, but first I want to be a Marine. This way I can say thank you to the United States and the Marine Corps for helping me.”

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