Ray Van Dusen
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo
As the world’s attention shifted to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan earlier this week amid a U.S. troop withdrawal, one former U.S. Marine with Monroe County ties sent requests to congressional leaders and local legislators to aid in getting a family of Afghan nationals out of the country.
Dr. Greg Yarbrough, who is based at the Monroe County Government Complex as a WIOA career coach through Itawamba Community College and Three Rivers Planning and Development District, was an embedded advisor with the Afghan National Army beginning in 2005.
“I was part of the advisor team with the rifle company near the Pakistani border in a place called Shkin. He was my interpreter. Not only was he my interpreter, he was the filter for all the cultural and political stuff that was going on inside the valley — he was the one I threaded all that through to try to figure out what was really going on,” Yarbrough said.
His wife, Kelly, made a Facebook post Sunday about the unfolding events in Afghanistan, and the interpreter, Daud, responded through a comment, which began the process of trying to help.
“We had the impression that he was in Dubai, and he sent a message back on one of my wife’s posts that said that he and his family were in Kabul and they were desperately trying to get out and that’s when we got involved, and it’s been like that ever since Sunday,” Yarbrough said.
Throughout the week, he has coordinated with Congressman Trent Kelly, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Donnie Bell in Itawamba County.
“They’ve all been incredibly responsive, and I have nothing but good things to say about our elected representatives. There seems to be movement going on with that,” he said.
As of Wednesday, the state department had the names of Daud and his family on the roster but needed specific contact information and photos so they could be identified when they got to Kabul’s airport and could move forward with the process of leaving the country.
The advisor team Yarbrough was part of included two other Marines, a Navy corpsman and 200 Afghan riflemen. More military support was two miles away, but Yarbrough described the distance as being an hour away because of the terrain.
“Daud helped us navigate that menagerie of any number of ways we could have tripped ourselves up and he kept me from getting shot and I’m incredibly grateful for that,” he said, adding there has been a vast amount of support from throughout the United States to get him and his family out of Afghanistan. “It’s our turn to take care of him for a little bit.”
While Yarborough’s tour of duty ended in 2006, Daud continued to serve in that role with the American military and other companies leading up to the fall of Afghanistan.
“He put in for a special visa in 2018 and he told me it just sat there,” he said.
Yarbrough served for seven years in the U.S. Navy and 13 years in the Marine Corps as an artilleryman. During the 2005 tour of duty with the Marines, his group had 300 square miles to patrol.
“In 2005, 2006, the Iraqi war had more of a pull as far as priority goes so in a lot of ways we were cowboys. We were given quite a bit of money and told to get out and make the people of the Bermel Valley love the Afghan government,” he said.
He said outside of the cities, Afghanistan’s population has the culture of pledging more allegiance to elders and war lord leaders than to the government.
“There are things we take advantage of — irrigation, water. All the things you would look to the City of Amory, Monroe County or even the State of Mississippi for, you may look to tribal elders,” Yarbrough said, adding part of his role as an advisor was to train the Afghan army where they were competent in dealing with the insurgency of terrorist groups.
One improvement made during his tour of duty was construction of a modern restroom facility to illustrate the benefits of cooperating with the Afghan government.
He thinks one of the biggest accomplishments during his tour was efforts to establish female rights, in addition to infrastructure improvements. Yarbrough added the true impacts will be shown in years to come.
“It’s hard to articulate how incredibly difficult what they’re trying to do is. Any advantage we had in Afghanistan, we’ve completely given up so literally we’re making this from scratch,” he said.
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