No One Left Behind: Keeping America’s Promises to Our Allies 

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Philanthropy Roundtable recently had the privilege of interviewing a representative of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting former interpreters and U.S. government employees who qualify for the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs. The Roundtable also spoke with Matt Watters, a former Green Beret with the United States Army Special Forces and current member of No One Left Behind’s Board of Directors, along with Sahil, Watters’s interpreter in Afghanistan. 

Founded by Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter who arrived in the United States by way of the SIV program, No One Left Behind has evacuated approximately 6,800 Afghans to safety and provided over $3.75 Million in resettlement assistance to approximately 6,630 newly resettled allies in the United States since 2021 alone. 

Watters and Sahil discuss the crucial role of our allies left behind under Taliban rule, and highlight the need for continued advocacy and support. No One Left Behind emphasizes how critical donor privacy and the freedom to give are to their mission. 

No One Left Behind estimates that 140,000 allies remain in Afghanistan fearing for their lives and waiting for America to fulfill its promise. 

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.  

Q: Matt, can you give us a quick history of your service and time in Afghanistan? 

Watters: I was deployed with the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret. My deployment in 2020 was during the wind-down of operations in Afghanistan. But it was highly kinetic with a lot of combat, which was unusual for that time. We were an expeditionary force out of Bagram, moving to wherever there was fighting in the country. 

Sahil was assigned as our interpreter along with a couple of others. As a weapons sergeant, I often worked closely with the Afghan Special Forces. Green Berets are unique in that we act as teachers, conducting complex missions often through allied forces. 

In Afghanistan, we trained the Afghan Special Forces in advanced techniques and conducted missions together. This collaboration was impossible without interpreters, as I spoke essentially no Pashto, the native language. A great interpreter like Sahil did more than translate; he helped us understand the culture and political landscape. For instance, he was able to learn from local kids where the Taliban or ISIS-K had placed IEDs (improvised explosive device), potentially saving our lives by avoiding those areas. 

Q: Sahil, we’re curious, what inspired you to become an interpreter?  

Sahil: I started working as an interpreter during my childhood. The American and Afghan soldiers and interpreters would come to the streets where we lived. The soldiers would talk to the kids and give them chocolates, water and such. I was very small and I thought, “I can be an interpreter someday.” When I grew up, I saw the Taliban and ISIS killing innocent students, people and teachers. I believe that the Taliban and ISIS were terrorists. I believed in democracy which is why I wanted to work with U.S. forces to help Afghan’s previous government resist the Taliban. So, I joined as an interpreter in 2019 and I met Matt in 2020. I worked for a year as an interpreter, and I went on almost 150 missions with those teams. 

Q: Matt, as a veteran, can you share why it’s so important to advocate for the interpreters who are still in Afghanistan or other countries?  

Watters: The first thing I would say is it’s incredibly dangerous for our interpreters like Sahil. You’re basically asking them to go on these missions with us without combat training. They’re walking into a gunfight with just a bulletproof vest on. Secondly, they’re flagging themselves to their community as being part of our effort. They could very easily face ramifications for that, should we not succeed.  

America promises safe passage to the U.S. for those who serve with us honorably. This promise matters for our ability to recruit future interpreters and help but also to the soldier who’s making that promise – there’s nothing more important than your word. There is an incredible bond when you go through trauma or combat together because you are so dependent on the people around you and interpreters become part of your team. So, when you leave you take comfort in the fact that you can help them through the SIV and come to America should they ever need it. 

Q: Can you expand on what it looks like on the ground in Afghanistan, Sahil? I imagine you still have family and friends there?  

Sahil: It is deteriorating and getting worse. Right now, our people don’t have freedom of speech. Nobody can say anything against those in charge or the media. I have friends there who cannot leave their homes after the Taliban took power. They were interpreters, laborers or mine detectors for the U.S. and they’re still hiding. So right now, their life is not safe. 

Watters: No One Left Behind keeps a roster of SIV eligible people. Not just interpreters, but people who could have been fixers or drivers for U.S. forces—we have more than 300 people on the list. Sahil mentioned friends who are not leaving their houses, but we know of others who have literally been hiding in a room because they don’t feel safe to get out and walk around because they were so visible to the community as being part of U.S. efforts. People have had to send their families to live in other places for safety and haven’t seen those family members for years. It’s just a tragic circumstance. 

Q: How is No One Left Behind filling the gap caused by the failure of our government to keep its promises to our Afghan interpreters by bringing them for resettlement in the U.S.? How has philanthropy stepped in to help America keep our promise to our allies? 

No One Left Behind: No One Left Behind is the nation’s oldest charitable organization dedicated to fulfilling America’s promise to our Afghan and Iraqi allies. As it stands today, 140,000 allies and their family members remain left behind in Afghanistan in fear for their lives. This reality is a national failure that spans administrations and Congresses of both parties. As an organization, we believe it is up to us collectively as a nation to do the right thing and stand true to our word. 

Because of generous donors, volunteers and our dedicated staff, we serve our allies by way of evacuation, resettlement and advocacy efforts. Since August of 2021 alone, we’ve evacuated 6,797, supported 6,629 here in the United States and played a role in passing critical legislation, including the largest addition of visas (12,000) in the program’s history. Philanthropy has made all of this possible and is the driving force in ensuring our work continues until every promise has been fulfilled. 

Q: Because of the work you do, how important is donor privacy to No One Left Behind’s mission? 

No One Left Behind: No One Left Behind maintains high standards of privacy. We always ensure that our allies’ information is kept safe from those that would do them harm. That ethos carries over to our donors whose privacy we protect. We are funded strictly by generous donors, not the government. Simply put, donors are the reason we’re able to do this life-saving work. We take pride in safeguarding our donors’ information and protecting their privacy at every stage of the donation process. We are honored by their financial contributions and feel it is our duty to safeguard their privacy. 

Q: Why do you believe protecting the freedom to give – the freedom of all Americans to support the charities and nonprofits they choose, and the right to do anonymously – is vital to the American charitable sector? 

No One Left Behind: Protecting the freedom to give is crucial for maintaining a vibrant and effective American charitable sector. It is not just about facilitating donations. It’s about upholding the principles of generosity, diversity, privacy and democracy that are fundamental to our nation’s charitable sector. Ultimately, protecting the freedom to give ensures that nonprofits, regardless of size, focus or history, can continue to make a meaningful difference in the world. 

View more stories about the importance of philanthropic freedom at 

Philanthropy Roundtable is grateful to all the men and women who have served our country. We owe you our freedom and will never forget your sacrifice and courage. For questions about the Roundtable’s work related to veterans or America’s founding principles, please contact Philanthropy Roundtable Portfolio Director Clarice Smith. 

Photo source: SSG William Tremblay

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