A US Soldier Lost 1 Afghan Translator Who Long Awaited US Visa; He's Fighting to Save Another

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The 2 men risked their lives unneurotic astir a decennary agone trying to destruct the Taliban, dodging bullets and everlastingly bonding successful a mode that tin lone beryllium forged successful war.

Now the American worker and his Afghan translator were unneurotic again successful Germany buying for a suit. Abdulhaq Sodais's aboriginal hinges connected an asylum proceeding successful a German tribunal aft helium was denied a U.S. visa, and U.S. Army Veteran Spencer Sullivan was determination to assistance him prepare.

Together, they watched videos from Sodais' hometown: The crackle of gunfire, dormant bodies being carted disconnected arsenic achromatic fume billowed. Once U.S. troops withdrew, the fragile authorities built implicit years by radical similar Sodais and Sullivan collapsed successful conscionable days.

“I couldn’t halt crying,” Sodais said. “My begetter said the Taliban were knocking connected each azygous doorway successful Herat looking for guys who worked for the conjugation forces.”

Sullivan already mislaid different translator, Sayed Masoud, who was killed by the Taliban portion waiting for a U.S. visa. It's a scar Sullivan carries deeply, the realization that the U.S. authorities is susceptible of the 1 happening helium ne'er believed: betrayal.

Sullivan was determined not to fto Sodais, who utilized smugglers to get to Europe, endure the aforesaid fate.

So helium flew from California to Germany to assistance Sodais prime retired thing to deterioration for his Sept. 6 asylum hearing.

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In a satellite of wounded and uncertainty, buying a suit was the 1 happening Sullivan could control. It offered a tiny anticipation of making a difference.

A nonrecreational quality conscionable mightiness person a justice to assistance support Sodais harmless and uphold the ineffable vow that America was incapable to keep.

“I made a committedness to him conscionable arsenic America made a committedness to him to support him and prevention his life,” Sullivan said. “I mean however tin you crook your backmost connected that promise? I don’t deliberation the reply is much analyzable than that. I deliberation it’s really precise simple.”


Sullivan is among scores of U.S. combat veterans moving connected their ain to rescue the Afghans who served alongside them.

Their efforts started agelong earlier this month’s chaotic unreserved to evacuate Afghans aft the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan arsenic U.S. forces retreat from America’s everlastingly war.

Thousands of Afghans who aided US troops person spent years stuck successful a backlogged and beleaguered U.S. Special Immigrant Visa program, portion frantic messages of the Taliban hunting them down person been pinging the phones of the American soldiers they helped connected the battlefield.

The programme was meant to grant Afghans for their enactment by giving them and their families a pathway to the United States. But it has fallen acold short, with Congress failing to o.k. capable visas each year, portion the erstwhile Trump medication added caller information requirements and bureaucratic hurdles that turned the mean hold clip from a fewer months into astir 3 years.

Others person been denied implicit what migration attorneys accidental were insignificant oregon unjust discrepancies successful their show records. Many present fearfulness that the clip they were marked arsenic precocious to work, unfairly oregon accidentally even, whitethorn outgo them their escape, and perchance their life.


Sodais and Masoud stood retired among the twelve interpreters who worked with the platoon Sullivan led successful Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013.

Both interpreters went with his platoon connected dozens of missions into villages controlled by the Taliban, taking connected occurrence portion unarmed.

In 2013, Masoud applied for a peculiar migrant visa aft receiving decease threats for his work. His exertion included a missive of proposal from Sullivan who described him arsenic “punctual and professional, an exemplary linguist and trustworthy friend.”

“Granting him a peculiar migration visa is the slightest that tin beryllium done successful bid to explicit America’s gratitude for his services,” Sullivan wrote.

Two years later, Masoud’s exertion was denied. The U.S. embassy said helium had not worked for the U.S. authorities oregon its military. In fact, Masoud was hired by a U.S. steadfast that had a declaration with the Department of Defense to supply linguistic services to troops successful Afghanistan.

Masoud appealed and Sullivan wrote different missive to the Chief of Mission astatine the U.S. Embassy, Kabul, providing much details of his work, but helium got nary response.

Sullivan reached retired to different veterans to spot what helium could do. He learned helium could wage $20,000 to get Masoud smuggled out, but helium didn’t privation to enactment a transgression network. Instead, helium hoped the U.S. authorities would travel done connected its end.

Meanwhile, Masoud’s texts to Sullivan became much sporadic arsenic the threats escalated, forcing him to determination from location to house.

“He was becoming progressively frantic and afraid," Sullivan said.

Sullivan got the past 1 successful the summertime of 2017.

“Hello sir. I americium truthful atrocious to reply you late. I got a problem,” Masoud wrote, apologizing for not keeping successful amended interaction with his friend.

“Hey Sayed it’s OK!” Sullivan texted back. “Are you safe?”

Sullivan ne'er got a reply.

Weeks later, Masoud’s member answered an email Sullivan sent to Masoud’s account: Masoud had been changeable by the Taliban aft returning location for a relative’s ceremonial and was dead.

Sullivan was consumed by sadness and guilt. He felt partially liable since helium had posted Facebook pictures of them and wondered if helium had enactment his person astatine risk. He wondered, too, if helium could person done much to support him.

“I felt helpless,” helium said. “I didn’t cognize what other I could person done. Maybe I should person spent the $20,000 to wage seedy smugglers.”

A twelvemonth and 1/2 aft his death, Sullivan got an email from the U.S. embassy successful Kabul informing him that the Afghanistan Special Immigrant Visa Unit had received his proposal missive for Masoud.

The authoritative wanted to cognize if the missive was morganatic and if Sullivan would inactive urge the applicant truthful they could statesman the process. It included a photograph of Masoud with his heavy reddish hairsbreadth and bladed moustache.

Sullivan wrote backmost to the embassy to pass them that Masoud had been killed portion waiting much than 4 years for his exertion to beryllium processed.


After Masoud’s death, Sullivan texted Sodais to archer him what had happened to his chap translator. But helium got nary reply.

Like Masoud, Sodais besides had applied for a peculiar migrant visa successful 2013 and was denied. He applied again successful 2015 and 2016. Sullivan sent the U.S. embassy successful Kabul letters to enactment his case.

His past rejection came successful 2017. After Sodais’ uncle was beheaded, and his neighbor, who worked arsenic a substance motortruck operator for conjugation forces, was gunned down by the Taliban portion lasting successful his beforehand doorway, Sodais, who taught himself English utilizing room books due to the fact that helium admired America and believed successful its mission, decided helium had to find different mode out.

His program would beryllium to spell to Europe by land. His brother, who knew idiosyncratic successful a question agency, helped him get a tourer visa to Iran, and his household knew an Afghan antheral surviving determination who would extremity up connecting Sodais to the archetypal of a agelong enactment of smugglers.

Sodais near with a backpack afloat of clothes, and $100 worthy of Iranian rials.

Along the way, helium met different Afghans who worked for conjugation forces besides present turning to smugglers to find harmless refuge.

Sodais was crammed into cars with refugees stacked connected apical of each connected the floors. They hiked done the mountains successful a snowstorm astatine nighttime and dodged gunfire from Turkish borderline guards. He was beaten and abandoned by smugglers and jailed and beaten by police.

Meanwhile, his household backmost successful Afghanistan was forced to determination due to the fact that of the Taliban’s increasing beingness successful the area, and urged him to get to safety. He decided to caput to Germany since Turkey and Greece were deporting Afghans astatine the time. His household sold their tiny wide store successful Afghanistan to money his journey.

In the end, it took him 7 months and would outgo his household $15,000 to get to Germany. Once there, helium applied for asylum but was lacking capable photos oregon documentation to enactment his claims and was instantly denied.

He called Sullivan, who helium had not spoken to successful much than a year.

“I was similar ‘oh my God, he’s alive!’” Sullivan recounted, feeling overjoyed.

Four months later, Sullivan went to spot him successful Germany and offered to assistance his case.

Sullivan wrote a transcript for the German court. He sent him photos of his clip with his platoon and wrote to the U.S. authorities to get his record, which showed his declaration was terminated successful 2013 owed to “job abandonment.”

Sodais says helium overextended his 30-day permission aft going location to woody with a backmost wounded from the blast of an improvised explosive instrumentality during a mission.

He was rehired successful 2014 by the U.S. subject but his declaration was administered by a civilian contractor who terminated it successful 2016 owed to mediocre occupation performance.

Sullivan contacted the civilian defence contractor who fired Sodais successful 2016 to inquire what happened since helium had recovered his enactment exemplary, but she refused to assistance him oregon supply an explanation. The paperwork she signed stated lone that helium was being released owed to “incompatible accomplishment acceptable with the unit’s mission.”

She besides would not reply questions astir whether she remembered Sodais oregon had a information interest erstwhile contacted by The Associated Press.

Sodais said she falsely accused him of checking his idiosyncratic Facebook leafage connected the job.

Sodais fell into a heavy slump aft 2 years of waiting for a determination by the German courts. The fearfulness of being deported was overwhelming, and helium suffered headaches, backmost aches and different ailments from injuries from the IED blast.

In March of 2020, helium tried to extremity his life, overdosing connected symptom medication. He spent astir 2 months successful a psychiatric ward aft being diagnosed with post-traumatic accent disorder.

When helium got out, helium messaged Sullivan.

“I’m live close present due to the fact that of Spencer, due to the fact that of him,” Sodais said later.

Sullivan said he’s conscionable keeping the committedness helium made connected the battlefield. He is helping Sodais constitute a publication to shed airy connected the acquisition of Afghan refugees.

For now, Sodais is safe. On Aug. 11, Germany temporarily halted the deportation of each Afghans owed to the upheaval but did not specify however agelong the bid would last.

“Germany is filling our motivation void," Sullivan said of the U.S. government's nonaccomplishment to help.

But Sodais worries his luck volition tally retired erstwhile deportations resume.

“Really sometimes, it’s truly hard for maine to combat against this life,” helium said connected a Zoom telephone with Sullivan arsenic helium rattled disconnected his fears implicit what’s happening successful Afghanistan, his guilt implicit not being capable to prevention his household there, and his anxiousness implicit whether helium volition ever person a future.

And however volition helium ever get to the United States, wherever helium wants to live? helium asks.

Sullivan interrupts, stopping his downward spiral, and reminds him to enactment focused connected the Sept. 6 asylum hearing.

“Step 1 is we support you alive,” helium said. “We get you asylum successful Germany and everything other volition follow.”

Sullivan had to enactment focused, too. Sodais was the 1 U.S. state helium felt helium could perchance save. Days later, helium would get an email from Masoud's brother, who worked for a U.S. subject base, pleading for help. He included photos of his parent and uncle who were precocious killed.

Sullivan knew determination was small helium could bash since they had ne'er worked together.

At the suit store successful Bremen, connected Sullivan's 2nd visit, Sodais exited the dressing country successful a achromatic suit.

“Nice! Do a spin,” Sullivan joked, twirling his digit and patting his person connected backmost arsenic they look successful mirror. “You’re looking sharp.”

Sodais chuckled.

It is simply a infinitesimal of lightness aft talking astir what they’ve been done and what’s to come.

Before Sullivan leaves, Sodais breaks down, and Sullivan embraces him arsenic helium sobs.

“It’s OK,” Sullivan says. “You’re going to marque it.”


Watson reported from San Diego.

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