At 31 years old, Nasrat Ahmad Yar had spent most of his adult life working with the US military in Afghanistan before escaping to America in search of a better life for his wife and four children.
He found work as a ride-share driver and even managed to send money back to Afghanistan to help family and friends. He liked to play volleyball with friends in the Washington suburb where many Afghans who fled their country now live. At 6-feet-5 inches, he had a powerful serve.
Last Monday night, worried about making rent, he went out driving and was shot and killed in Washington. 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. Police have offered a US$25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
“He was so generous. He was so nice. He was always trying to help the people,” said Rahim Amini, a fellow Afghan immigrant and long-time friend. He said Ahmad Yar always reminded him, “Don’t forget the people left behind.”
Jeramie Malone, an American who came to know Ahmed Yar through her volunteer work with a veteran-founded organisation bringing former Afghan interpreters to safety, also was struck by his generosity.
“He always wanted to be giving more than he was receiving and he was just really extremely kind.” In America, Malone said, “all he wanted was a chance.”
Afghans and US military veterans gathered for a funeral service Saturday at the All Muslim Association of America in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Family and friends comforted Ahmad Yar’s children and wife as his casket was lowered into the ground with ropes and people used shovels to toss soil on top.
One of those in attendance was Matthew Butler, now retired from the military who met Ahmad Yar in 2009 at Bagram Airfield, then an American base north of Kabul, the Afghan capital. Ahmad Yar was his primary interpreter for two tours in the country.
Butler said Ahmad Yar was like a brother or a son to him, and he noted the military’s commitment to leaving no one behind — something he said now extends to Ahmad Yar’s wife.
“I pledged my support to his wife and his children, and said just because Nasrat is gone doesn’t mean my support to you is gone. I won’t leave you behind,” Butler said after the ceremony.
Amini said Ahmad Yar had worked for the US military for about a decade as an interpreter and doing other jobs, seeing it as a way to help pave the way for the next generation in Afghanistan to have a better life.
While the US has had a Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who worked closely with the US government to come to America since 2009, Amini said his friend didn’t want to apply right away, preferring to stay in Afghanistan, where he felt needed.
He remembered 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.”
Then, in August 2021, the US pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over.
Mohammad Ahmadi, Ahmad Yar’s cousin, was already in America after also working for the US 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 the Taliban soldiers walking through the streets of Kabul and was worried they would discover he’d been an interpreter for the US military.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to get killed in front of my wife and kids,’” Ahmadi said.
When he wasn’t able to get out of the crowded Kabul airport, Ahmad Yar 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-e-Sharif, where he and his family were able to get on a flight to the United Arab Emirates and then eventually travel to America.
Even when laying low in Mazar-e-Sharif, Nasrat would go out of his way to assist other Afghans who also had come to escape the Taliban — greeting them on arrival to the strange city, bringing their families to stay with his, and feeding them, while all waited for flights out, Malone said.
“Nasrat was very different, because even though he was needing help, he was always helping me,” she said.
While waiting at the interim transit camp in the United Arab Emirates, he asked for writing supplies for the children so he could teach them English before they arrived in the US, Malone said. “It was really important for him for his kids to get an education and for them to … have opportunities they never would have had in Afghanistan.”
His eldest child, a girl, is now 13, and the others are boys, ages 11, 8 and just 15 months old.
The family went first to Pennsylvania, but Amini said his friend was robbed there and decided to move to Alexandria, in northern Virginia. Amini said Ahmad Yar told him he’d fled to the US “to be safe and unfortunately I’m not safe here.”
In northern Virginia, they both ended up being ride-share drivers and lived about three kilometres from each other. Like many in the Afghan diaspora there, they chatted throughout the day in a WhatsApp group text. And they played in a weekly volleyball game. Ahmad Yar was really good and no one could block his serve, Amini said.
Amini said they spoke Monday evening and the next thing he knew he was woken up by another Afghan friend who had somehow heard that Ahmad Yar had been killed.
In disbelief, Amini began frantically calling his friend. But it was the police who finally answered the phone: “The police officer said: ‘I’m sorry. Unfortunately he’s not alive anymore.’”
The police said in their report that they responded to a call about an unconscious person and found Ahmad Yar’s body. They rushed him to the hospital, where he was declared dead. On the surveillance video they released, one of the four suspected attackers shouted, “You just killed him.” Another answered, “He was reaching, bro.”
Washington has struggled to handle steadily rising crime rates, with murders and carjackings mostly to blame. Homicides are up 14 per cent compared with this time last year. Early Wednesday, nine people enjoying the Independence Day festivities were shot and wounded, police said.
His wife is still in shock, said Ahmad Yar’s cousin, Ahmadi. But she said she and her husband had the same goal in coming to America — to provide a future for their children.
She told Ahmadi: “I have the same goal for them. They can go to school. They can go to college and become educated and good people for the society.”