This new Marine was born in Afghanistan and hopes to return – this time to fight extremism
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN AND CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2019
Marine Pvt. Atiqullah Assadi remembers the Afghanistan of his childhood vividly.
The country’s mountains and vistas remind Assadi, who later grew up in Detroit, of western states like Colorado and Washington.
“I would love to return,” said Assadi, seated on the steps in front of a building at Parris Island, S.C., in a Marine Corps video released Monday. “It’s beautiful there … other than the parts where, unfortunately, extremism and the terrorists, you know, took over.”
Assadi, who graduated from boot camp last week, would be among a small but valued number of native Afghan U.S. servicemembers fighting a war now in its 18th year.
The video paired scenes from his home country with footage of him in Marine Corps basic training — clambering over obstacles, marching in formation and fighting hand-to-hand with fellow recruits.
Meanwhile, Assadi shared painful memories of life from before his family emigrated to Michigan.
“I remember waking up by masked men … they kidnapped my father and my brothers … coming from the mosque,” Assadi said. “They had a truck outside the house. They were putting everything — every single thing, as small as a needle — [inside it] basically looting the house.”
Assadi was crying as he pleaded with the men not to kill his father, he recalled, and his father heard him.
“My father had a smile on his face and said, ‘Don’t cry, son. You’re stronger. These days will leave. These days will go away. Just have faith,’” Assadi said.
While he and his family were able to escape, the bloodshed in his homeland is continuing into its fourth decade. After earning the Corps’ eagle, globe and anchor emblem last month, Assadi said he wanted to return.
“I decided I want to serve ... to fight against extremism,” he said.
Since the majority of foreign combat forces were withdrawn from the country in late 2014, the Taliban has resurged and now control about 10% of the country; they are vying for control of another third, the latest U.S. military assessments show.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to pull the U.S. out of Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats say they have made progress in hammering out terms with the Taliban for a potential withdrawal and guarantees that the country won’t be used for terrorism against the West again.
Now the U.S., China, Russia and Pakistan want the militants to enter negotiations with the Kabul government and other Afghans, and to declare a cease-fire, the U.S. said last week in a statement following four-party talks in Beijing.
Although figures on the number of native Afghans in the U.S. military weren’t immediately available, several have been featured in news stories and military press releases.
Four native Afghans in the Army deployed to the country last year as translators attached to the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, the Army has said, and 10 deployed this year with the 2nd SFAB.
Another Afghan native, Mohammad Nadir, served as an interpreter for U.S. troops in Helmand province for three years before moving with his family to live in the U.S. and joining the service, a Marine statement said after his boot camp graduation in 2017.
“When I saw the Marines fighting I knew I wanted to do that,” said Nadir, who first stepped foot on U.S. soil on the Corps’ birthday in November 2014. “I respect them a lot for what I saw those Marines do in Afghanistan.”
Marines now mainly serve in restive Helmand, where the Corps had suffered some of the heaviest casualties earlier in the war, and at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. base in the country, north of the Afghan capital. Three Marines were killed and three others wounded in a roadside bomb blast outside Bagram in April.
Before joining the Marines, Assadi had served in Afghanistan as an intelligence contractor with the Defense Department between 2011 and 2013, Task and Purpose reported.
Assadi enlisted as a reconnaissance Marine, the website said, one of the high-demand career fields in which the Marine Corps is offering large reenlistment bonuses to hang on to experienced troops as it faces a large exodus and a dwindling pool of potential recruits.
“The extremists, the Taliban or any of these people … they should not have a home on Earth,” Assadi said. “I feel I should be able to help out, do something, you know, to help out the people and try to eliminate these people. So, here I am.”
Pvt. Atiqullah Assadi sits on the steps in front of a building at Parris Island, S.C. The Afghan-born Marine was eager to return to his birth country to fight extremism, after graduating from boot camp July 12, 2019.
SCREEN SHOT/U.S. MARINE CORPS