Sayednabiullah Sayedzai, an Afghan refugee who once worked as a translator for U.S. military forces, turned on the television to try to understand Thursday’s news.
The Pentagon had just announced that it had dropped the largest nonnuclear bomb in its arsenal on an Islamic State target, a cave complex believed used by IS fighters in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
From his south Sacramento home, Sayedzai made frantic phone calls but was unable to reach relatives who many months earlier had fled their rural village in the same province as the bombing for the city of Jalalabad.
The 37-year-old couldn’t fathom what the newscasters were saying about a “mother of all bombs,” a 30-foot-long, 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition. He just thought about his brother, Zabiullah Sayedzai, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army who was gunned down by unknown assassins last year in a Nangarhar marketplace after returning home to see relatives and celebrate the birth of his first child.
Sayednabiullah Sayedzai wondered whether that big bomb, targeting IS forces working with the Taliban, would do any good – or just make things worse.
“I’m mad at those people who killed my brother, and at those who burned my father-in-law and my sister out of their houses,” he said. “They left the countryside because of ISIS or unknown people with weapons making problems in the area.”
Sayedzai came to Sacramento in 2013 on a Special Immigrant Visa after working as a translator for the Navy Medical Corps in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2013. Before then, he had been a public health minister in Afghanistan, inspecting neighborhood medical facilities.
Now the father of five works part time in West Sacramento, teaching computer skills to schoolchildren, while taking classes himself at Cosumnes River College.
Sacramento County has received roughly 3,800 Iraqis and Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas since 2008, by far the highest number of any county in California and more than the total in 47 states.
Sayedzai and his family are rebuilding their lives here. But news of the bombing left his wife sobbing and all of them worried and confused about what it might mean for their homeland.
The big blast, with an unknown number of casualties, just made him wonder: “Does it make sense?”
“If people can go back to their villages and live in peace, I will be happy,” he said. “If things get much worse, and there is more bloodshed, I can’t be.”