Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Half a billion dollars for Afghan interpreters

Photo
(An Afghan interpreter with a U.S. army soldier in Kunar province.Reuters/Tim Wimborne)

(An Afghan interpreter with a U.S. army soldier in Kunar province.Reuters/Tim Wimborne)

Thousands of U.S. troops are streaming into Afghanistan each month as part of the surge, and among the things critical to their mission are the services of interpreters.

The U.S. army this month extended the contract of an Ohio-based company to provide translators for Afghanistan for another year at a cost of $679 million. U.S. and NATO commander Lt. General Stanley McChyrstal’s strategy for Afghanistan rests on winning the trust of the people and that can’t work if you don’t have enough people speaking any of their languages such as Pashto, Dari, Tajik, Uzbek.

The “terps”, as the soldiers call them in military slang, don’t just do literal translations, they provide insights into local culture and customs that are key to any attempt to win the people over. And above all, their ability to read the situation on the ground can often save lives.

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