'Guy Ritchie's the Covenant' Is a Love Letter to Afghan Interpreters

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Dar Salim (left) as Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal (right) as Sgt. John Kinley in The Covenant, directed by Guy Ritchie. (Christopher Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

No, "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" isn't based on a true story, but viewers wouldn't be too far off in thinking it might be.

By the end of 2021, The Wall Street Journal estimated 62,000 Afghans who served with American forces, along with thousands of family members, were left behind, waiting for the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) they were promised.

It seemed there is no rhyme or reason to why some received their SIV and why others didn't, no matter what work they did, what their accomplishments were or how many American lives they saved. Stories are still emerging about Afghans who cleared land mines, took up arms and otherwise risked their lives for their American units.

    There are even groups of American veterans and private citizens who continue to work where the U.S. government has failed. Projects like Task Force Argo work to fulfill the promise of those SIVs for Afghan interpreters who served with U.S. troops by arranging their evacuation from the country.

    In short, "The Covenant" might not be a true story, but it is a story many veterans of the War in Afghanistan wish they were a part of. Many vets with a close connection to their interpreters see the way the U.S. left them behind as a betrayal, both of their promise and of the Afghans' service to the United States. That's what "The Covenant" is about.

    It follows U.S. Army Sgt. John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal, "Jarhead"), who leads a team of soldiers looking for hidden Taliban arms caches. After an attack forces his unit to find a new interpreter, he is introduced to Ahmed (Dar Salim, "Game of Thrones"), who gives the impression that he is more than just a native speaker.

    (Christopher Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

    After Ahmed risks his life in an epically heroic effort to save Sgt. Kinley, the tale of his effort catches fire across the country. Kinley returns home to California when he is ultimately returned to the safety of friendly lines, but Ahmed is left behind.

    The story takes place at a time when U.S. forces were still fighting in Afghanistan, but Kinley learns that Ahmed, his wife and his newborn child did not receive their SIV or passage to the United States. Kinley, unable to go on in the comfort of his stateside life without helping the man who brought him there, returns to Afghanistan on his own. Waiting for him, however, are the Taliban. Embarrassed by Ahmed's widespread fame in aiding an American soldier, they are determined to capture and kill both Ahmed and Kinley.

    Gyllenhaal (left) and director Guy Ritchie (right) on the set of "The Covenant." (Christopher Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

    The film depicts the dangers faced by U.S. troops during the war, especially when fighting the Taliban. It also shows what life was like for interpreters working for the Americans during the war. They faced constant threats against themselves and their families, even at the height of American involvement there.

    Interpreters and their family members were kidnapped, tortured and killed for their perceived betrayal against the Taliban, even before the U.S. withdrawal. Once the Americans were gone, they were forced to go into hiding -- and even then weren't completely safe.

    The situation for those Afghan interpreters and their families left behind is still a dire one. No One Left Behind, a nonprofit advocate, estimates 300 translators and family members have been killed by the Taliban since 2014 for the kind of assistance depicted in "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant."

    "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" opens in theaters April 21, 2023. Find out more about the movie on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

    -- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on LinkedIn.

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