As It Happens6:24Afghan interpreter who survived the Taliban shot and killed while driving for Lyft in D.C

Nasrat Ahmad Yar survived a lifetime of war, more than a decade of work as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, a Taliban takeover, and a perilous journey to America — only to be shot and killed while driving for ride-hailing service Lyft in Washington, D.C.

Matthew Butler, a retired lieutenant colonel with U.S. Army Special Forces who worked with Ahmad Yar in the field, says it’s hard to come to grips with the seemingly random killing of someone he viewed as both a brother and a son.

“The thing that I think resonated the strongest in me was just the irony,” Butler told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. “The irony of having grown up in Afghanistan, having been, you know, an interpreter doing those types of missions, and then being a refugee and an immigrant — and then to be killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ahmad Yar, 31, was laid to rest Saturday during a funeral at the All Muslim Association of America in Fredericksburg, Va. He leaves behind his wife, Muzhgan, and four children — a 13-year-old daughter and three sons, aged 11, eight and 15 months.

He was killed on the job Monday night in what Butler suspects was a random car-jacking or gang-related violence. No suspects have been arrested, but surveillance video captured the sound of a single gunshot and four boys or young men were seen running away from the scene.

“It’s nothing that you can be prepared for,” Butler said. “It’s been an exhausting week.”

‘He was always trying to help the people’

Friends and family describe Ahmad Yar as a kind and generous man who lived his life in service of others — his country, his family, and anyone who was in need. 

He worked as a tow-truck driver during the day and a Lyft driver at night, trying to scrape together enough cash pay rent, take care of his children, and send money back to his family in Afghanistan.

“He was doing everything he could to really take advantage of the American dream by working so hard, saving his money,” Butler said. “He wanted to start his own tow company.”

Two men embrace as another watches.
Matthew Butler, right, a retired lieutenant colonel with U.S. Army Special Forces who served with Ahmad Yar in Afghanistan, hugs a fellow mourner during the funeral on Saturday. (Nathan Howard/The Associated Press)

When he wasn’t working, he volunteered to help bring other Afghan interpreters and their families to the U.S., and would often greet newcomers at the airport and help take care of them as they adjusted to their new home. 

“He was so generous. He was so nice. He was always trying to help the people,” Rahim Amini, a fellow Afghan immigrant and friend, told The Associated Press. 

Jeramie Malone knew Ahmed Yar through her volunteer work with a veteran-founded organization that brings former Afghan interpreters to safety.

“He always wanted to be giving more than he was receiving and he was just really extremely kind,” Malone said. 

Working for the U.S. military since he was 10

Ahmad Yar was 18 when Butler fist met him. He was just beginning his career as an interpreter.

“I was shocked at his age,” Butler, who was about 40 at the time, said. “He was, you know, involved in diplomatic discussions with leaders and tribal elders and all these different engagements that we would take him on. So he really had a maturity and a cheerfulness about him that I’ll always remember.”

A man, blurred in the background, holds up his phone, showing a picture of a smiling young man in a baseball cap leaning against a fence.
Mohammad Ahmadi poses for a portrait in Alexandria, Va., Friday, July 7, 2023, while holding a phone showing a digital photograph of his cousin, Ahmad Yar. (Serkan Gurbuz/The Associated Press)

But his work for the U.S. military began much earlier than that. He first showed up at the Bagram Airfield near Kabul when he was 10 years old and would do odd jobs, Butler said. 

“It was kind of a joke. It’s kind of like everybody introduced him as the kid that wouldn’t go away, and he just kind of hung out with us,” Butler said. “And by the time I met him, he had already taught himself English and been promoted to interpreter.” Asked why such a young boy would do that kind of work, Butler said: “He just had such a distaste of the Taliban.”

Fleeing the Taliban

It would be the Taliban who eventually drove Ahmad Yar and his family out of Afghanistan. 

The U.S. has had a Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who worked closely with the U.S. government to come to America since 2009. But Amini said his friend didn’t want to apply right away.

He recalled Ahmad Yar saying: “I have guys here I need to support…. When I feel that they don’t need my support then I can go to America.”

But in August 2021, the U.S. pulled out of the country, and the Taliban — which had previously controlled Afghanistan in the ’90s — seized control.

A man, pictured from the nose down, wraps his arms around a young boy, who leans into him, his eyes closed as he rests his head against the man's chest.
A family member comforts Asem Ahmad Yar, 8, during his father’s funeral. (Nathan Howard/The Associated Press)

Anyone who worked with Western connections was risk under the new regime, and there was a massive rush to get out. More than 30,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada since August 2021, and the federal government has a goal of resettling 40,000 by the end of this year. Many others who worked for Canada, or their family members, are still waiting, and the NDP has called on the government to lift the cap.

Mohammad Ahmadi, Ahmad Yar’s cousin, was already in the U.S. after also working for the U.S. military. The two talked on the phone about how to get Ahmad Yar and his family out of Afghanistan.

Ahmadi said his cousin could see Taliban soldiers walking through the streets of Kabul and was worried they would discover he’d been an interpreter for the U.S. military.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to get killed in front of my wife and kids,”‘ Ahmadi said.

A woman in a veil cries into a tissue, while surrounded by other women.
Nasrat Ahmad Yar’s wife cries at her husband’s grave. (Mariam Zuhaib/The Associated Press)

When Ahmad Yar wasn’t able to get out of the crowded Kabul airport, he went to northern Afghanistan in hopes of getting into Uzbekistan. When that didn’t work, he and his family went to the northwestern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he and his family were able to get on a flight to the United Arab Emirates and then eventually travel to the U.S. — first Pennsylvania, and then Virginia. 

Butler says his friend had high hopes for his life in the U.S.

“In typical Nasrat fashion, it really wasn’t about him, but it was about others. It was about his children, and everything that he wanted to do was to give his children the best opportunity for the best life that they could,” Butler said.

“He was passionate about that. He was passionate about succeeding and making something of themselves here so that his children could enjoy that legacy.”

Butler says he is now working with more of Ahmad Yar’s friends and colleagues to make sure his family is taken care of through a combination of crowdfunding, life insurance from Lyft and scholarships from non-profits.

He says they are hoping to set up a trust that “sees this family through not just the next couple of months or next couple of years, but really throughout their lifetime.”

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