The American broadcaster, ABC News, recently broke a whistleblower report that US army interpreters deployed in Afghanistan often don’t speak the local languages. In fact, up to a quarter of the interpreters hired by a private provider, Mission Essential Personnel, failed basic language tests.

Click on the video below, to watch one such interpreting episode unfold: a Pashto-speaking villager in effect offers to co-operate with US troops but the interpreter makes up an entirely different scenario with the Americans eventually walking away and cursing the villager. No wonder they don’t get anywhere winning the hearts and minds of the locals!


Christian Science Monitor report has some examples of the damage caused by incompetent interpreters: in one case, misinterpreted directions resulted in a mortar attack on the wrong spot. The entire livestock of a village was killed in that attack; US troops paid compensation to the villagers. In another example, a request for shooting illumination flares was misinterpreted as a request for a mortar attack, which resulted in an unspecified number of casualties.