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一个老兵的战斗:营救阿富汗翻译

一个老兵的战斗:营救阿富汗翻译

Julie Watson, Andrea Rosa, 美联社 2021年08月31日
为美国效力,又被美国“抛弃”的阿富汗人,命运会如何?

大概十年前,两人冒着生命危险共同作战,在枪林弹雨中建立起可以将后背交给对方的长久友谊。

如今,一家德国西装店内,美国士兵和阿富汗翻译再次并肩。在美国签证被拒后,阿卜杜勒哈克•索迪斯的未来取决于德国法院举行的庇护听证会上的结果,而斯潘塞•沙利文正在帮他做准备。

两人一起看了索迪斯家乡的视频,枪声此起彼伏,浓烟滚滚中人们运送着尸体。美军撤离后短短几天,靠着索迪斯和沙利文等人多年努力建立的脆弱政府就垮台了。

“我没有忍住,哭了。”索迪斯说。“我的父亲说,塔利班在赫拉特挨家挨户地搜查曾经为联军工作的人。”

这是沙利文内心深深的伤痛:他之前的翻译赛义德•马苏德在等待美国签证期间不幸身亡。美国政府做了他从未预料的事情:背叛。

索迪斯靠着偷渡到了欧洲,沙利文决心不让他遭受同样的命运。

正因如此,他才从美国加利福尼亚州飞往德国帮助索迪斯挑选衣服,参加9月6日的庇护听证会。

在充满伤害和不确定的世界里,沙利文唯一能够控制的事情就是买套西装。如果在出席庇护听证会时穿着专业,可能说服法官帮助保护索迪斯的安全,维护美国无法遵守的神圣誓言,这至少可以带来改变的希望。

“我向他承诺,正如美国承诺保护他挽救他的生命一样。”沙利文说。“怎么可以背信弃义?我认为答案并不复杂。其实很简单。”

单枪匹马营救

数十位美国老兵在独立营救出了曾经并肩作战的阿富汗人,沙利文只是其中之一。

早在8月美军从阿富汗漫长战争中撤出,塔利班迅速接管,而阿富汗当地人纷纷逃离混乱之前,营救就已经开始。

多年来,由于美国特殊移民签证计划严重积压且饱受围攻,数千名曾经帮助过美军的阿富汗人一直深陷困境。塔利班疯狂追捕的消息不断,他们只能给战场上帮助过的美国士兵打电话求助。

特殊签证项目意味着阿富汗人和家人能够前往美国。但签证实在太少,每年美国国会批准的签证数量不够,前特朗普政府又增加了新的安全要求和官僚障碍,平均等待时间从几个月延长到近三年。

只是因为工作记录中存在微小或不公正的矛盾,有些人就会直接被拒。现在很多人担心,仅仅因为像有上班迟到的记录这种并不公平乃至单纯意外的原因,都可能减少逃离的机会,甚至可能付出生命的代价。

杰出的口译

2012年至2013年,在苏利文领导的阿富汗战排的十几名口译员中,索迪斯和马苏德最为优秀。

两名口译都跟随他的战排执行了数十项任务,进入塔利班控制的村庄,手无寸铁地面临战火。

2013年,马苏德在工作时收到死亡威胁后便申请了特殊移民签证。申请材料中包括一封来自沙利文的推荐信,信中称他“守时、专业、精通语言,是值得信赖的朋友”。

“为了表达美国对他服务的感激,最少也应该提供一张特别移民签证。”沙利文写道。

两年后,马苏德的申请遭驳回。美国大使馆称,他没有为美国政府或军方工作过。然而,马苏德工作的美国公司与国防部签有合同,专为驻阿富汗部队提供语言服务。

马苏德提出上诉,沙利文给驻喀布尔的美国大使馆负责人又写了一封信,提供了更多工作细节,但无人回应。

沙利文找其他的老兵求助,想看看能够提供什么帮助。他发现花2万美元可以帮助马苏德偷渡,但沙利文不想支持犯罪网络。他还是希望申请美国签证的路能够走通。

与此同时,随着威胁升级,马苏德被迫各处躲藏,发给沙利文的信息也越来越少。

“他越来越慌乱害怕。”沙利文说。

2017年夏天,沙利文收到了最后一条信息。

“你好,很抱歉回信晚了。我遇到了问题。”马苏德的信息主要为未能跟朋友保持密切联系而致歉。

“我说过,没有关系的!”沙利文回了短信。

“你现在安全吗?”

然而,沙利文再也没有收到回复。

几周后,沙利文收到马苏德兄弟回复的电子邮件:“马苏德回家参加亲戚的葬礼,被塔利班开枪打死。”

沙利文沉浸在悲伤和内疚之中。他曾在Facebook上发过两人的合照,他觉得朋友身陷危险或许是因为自己行事不当。同时,他也在反思自己之前是不是应该更努力地保护朋友。

他说:“我感觉很无助,不知道还可以做什么。也许早应该把2万美元给肮脏的走私犯。”

马苏德死后一年半,沙利文终于收到了美国驻喀布尔大使馆的电子邮件,通知他阿富汗特殊移民签证处已经收到给马苏德的推荐信。

发信的官员想知道推荐信是否正当,沙利文还会不会推荐该申请人,从而开始审核流程。信中有一张留着浓密红发和稀疏胡子的马苏德的照片。

沙利文回信给大使馆说,在等待申请流程的四年多里,马苏德已遭到杀害。

2021年8月27日,喀布尔机场。8月26日机场发生两起自杀式炸弹,造成数十人死亡,其中包括13名美军士兵。爆炸现场遍地是逃离中阿富汗人的背包和物品。图片来源:Wakil Kohsar—AFP/Getty Images

一起死亡事件引发的连续反应

在马苏德遇害后,沙利文发生的事情告诉了他的翻译索迪斯,但沙利文没有得到对方的回复。

与马苏德一样,索迪斯也曾在2013年申请特别移民签证,但被拒签。他在2015年和2016年再次申请,但都被拒签。2017年他最后一次被拒签,沙利文给美国驻喀布尔大使馆写了信,说明支持索迪斯申请的理由。

后来,叔叔被斩首,而曾担任联军燃料卡车司机的邻居在自家门前被塔利班射杀,索迪斯因此决定自寻出路逃出阿富汗。索迪斯在图书馆自学了英语,因为他仰慕美国并且相信美国的使命。

他的计划是通过陆路前往欧洲。索迪斯的兄弟在一家旅行社有一位熟人,在这位熟人的帮助下,他办理了前往伊朗的旅游签证,他的家人认识一位住在伊朗的阿富汗人,索迪斯通过这个人联系上了第一位蛇头。

索迪斯背着一包衣服和价值100美元的伊朗里亚尔,开始了逃亡之旅。

他在途中结识了其他曾为联军工作的阿富汗人,他们也与他一样希望通过蛇头找到安全的庇护所。

索迪斯与其他难民一起被装进了人挤人的车厢里。他们曾经在夜间的暴风雪中翻越高山,还要躲避土耳其边防军的攻击。他曾经被蛇头毒打和抛弃,也曾经被警察关押和殴打。

与此同时,随着塔利班在当地的势力日益庞大,索迪斯留在阿富汗的家人也不得不搬家,并催促他尽快找到安全的地方。由于土耳其和希腊禁止阿富汗人入境,索迪斯决定前往德国。为了给他的逃亡之旅筹钱,家人卖掉了家里的小百货商店。

索迪斯用七个月时间,花了家里15,000美元,才最终抵达德国。入境德国之后,他马上申请避难,但由于缺乏足够的照片或资料能够证明他的说法,申请很快被驳回。

他打电话给已经一年多没有联系的沙利文。

这令沙利文喜出望外。他的第一反应是:“ 我的上帝,他还活着!”

四个月后,沙利文去德国见了索迪斯,并为他提供了帮助。

沙利文向德国法院写了一份报告。他给索迪斯寄去了许多照片,证明索迪斯曾经在他的站排工作,他还致信美国政府获取了索迪斯的档案,证明他的合同因为“放弃工作”而在2013年终止。

索迪斯说,他在一次任务中遭遇简易爆炸装置袭击,导致背部受伤。因回家治疗,他的30天假期超期。

索迪斯在2014年被美军重新雇佣,但他的合同由一家民用承包商负责管理。该承包商在2016年以工作表现不佳为由终止了与他的合同。

索迪斯是个表现出色的人。沙利文为此联系到2016年解雇索迪斯的民用国防承包商,询问事情的经过,但对方拒绝帮助他或为他提供解释。对方签字的文件只显示,他之所以被解雇是因为“他的能力不适合该部门的任务。”

面对美联社(The Associated Press)的询问,对方也不愿意回答是否记得索迪斯,或是否是出于安全考虑解雇了索迪斯。

索迪斯表示,承包商指控他在工作期间查看个人Facebook页面,但这一指控没有根据。

在苦苦等待德国法院判决两年之后,索迪斯已经陷入了深度抑郁的状态。他时刻担心被驱逐出境,还要承受头痛、后背痛和因为简易爆炸装置爆炸受伤而导致的其他疾病。

2020年3月,他曾经试图服用大量止痛药自杀。他曾经被诊断出患有创伤后应激障碍,在一家精神病院治疗近两个月。

他出院后发信息给沙利文。

索迪斯后来说道:“我现在能够活着,都要感谢斯潘塞,都是因为他。”

沙利文说,他只是在履行战场上许下的承诺。他正在帮助索迪斯写一本书,介绍自己作为阿富汗难民的经历。

目前,索迪斯已经安全。8月11日,由于局势动荡,德国临时停止驱逐所有阿富汗难民,但并没有具体说明该项命令会持续多久。

当谈到没有提供帮助的美国政府时,沙利文称:“德国正在填补我们在道德上的缺失。”

但索迪斯担心,一旦德国恢复驱逐阿富汗难民,他的好运总有一天会到头。

他在与沙利文的Zoom通话中哀叹道:“有时候,现在的生活真的让我无力抗争。”他担心阿富汗同胞的遭遇,也因无法拯救留在国内的亲人而感到愧疚,还因前途一片渺茫而深感焦虑。

他质疑自己如何才可以前往他梦寐以求的美国。

沙利文要他振作起来,并提醒他集中精力应对9月6日的避难听证会。

他说:“我们要做的第一件事情是让你活下去。我们先在德国申请避难,然后再考虑其他的可能。”

沙利文也必须保持专注。他感觉索迪斯是自己能够拯救的盟友。几天后,他收到了也曾在曾经在美国军事基地工作的马苏德兄弟发来的一封求助邮件。电子邮件中附上了他最近遇害的妈妈和叔叔的照片。

沙利文知道,对此他无能为力,因为他们没有一起共事的经历。

在位于不莱梅的一家服装店,索迪斯穿着一身黑西装走出更衣室,这是沙利文第二次来探望他。

在试衣镜前,沙利文一边转着指头一边拍着朋友的后背,开玩笑说:“很帅!转个圈。你看起来很精神。”

索迪斯露出了微笑。

这是两人在谈论过各自的经历和未来之后的一小会儿轻松时刻。

在沙利文离开之前,索迪斯情绪崩溃,哭了起来。沙利文拥抱着自己的好友。

他说:“没事的,你一定会成功的。”(财富中文网)

译者:Feb、Biz

大概十年前,两人冒着生命危险共同作战,在枪林弹雨中建立起可以将后背交给对方的长久友谊。

如今,一家德国西装店内,美国士兵和阿富汗翻译再次并肩。在美国签证被拒后,阿卜杜勒哈克•索迪斯的未来取决于德国法院举行的庇护听证会上的结果,而斯潘塞•沙利文正在帮他做准备。

两人一起看了索迪斯家乡的视频,枪声此起彼伏,浓烟滚滚中人们运送着尸体。美军撤离后短短几天,靠着索迪斯和沙利文等人多年努力建立的脆弱政府就垮台了。

“我没有忍住,哭了。”索迪斯说。“我的父亲说,塔利班在赫拉特挨家挨户地搜查曾经为联军工作的人。”

这是沙利文内心深深的伤痛:他之前的翻译赛义德•马苏德在等待美国签证期间不幸身亡。美国政府做了他从未预料的事情:背叛。

索迪斯靠着偷渡到了欧洲,沙利文决心不让他遭受同样的命运。

正因如此,他才从美国加利福尼亚州飞往德国帮助索迪斯挑选衣服,参加9月6日的庇护听证会。

在充满伤害和不确定的世界里,沙利文唯一能够控制的事情就是买套西装。如果在出席庇护听证会时穿着专业,可能说服法官帮助保护索迪斯的安全,维护美国无法遵守的神圣誓言,这至少可以带来改变的希望。

“我向他承诺,正如美国承诺保护他挽救他的生命一样。”沙利文说。“怎么可以背信弃义?我认为答案并不复杂。其实很简单。”

单枪匹马营救

数十位美国老兵在独立营救出了曾经并肩作战的阿富汗人,沙利文只是其中之一。

早在8月美军从阿富汗漫长战争中撤出,塔利班迅速接管,而阿富汗当地人纷纷逃离混乱之前,营救就已经开始。

多年来,由于美国特殊移民签证计划严重积压且饱受围攻,数千名曾经帮助过美军的阿富汗人一直深陷困境。塔利班疯狂追捕的消息不断,他们只能给战场上帮助过的美国士兵打电话求助。

特殊签证项目意味着阿富汗人和家人能够前往美国。但签证实在太少,每年美国国会批准的签证数量不够,前特朗普政府又增加了新的安全要求和官僚障碍,平均等待时间从几个月延长到近三年。

只是因为工作记录中存在微小或不公正的矛盾,有些人就会直接被拒。现在很多人担心,仅仅因为像有上班迟到的记录这种并不公平乃至单纯意外的原因,都可能减少逃离的机会,甚至可能付出生命的代价。

杰出的口译

2012年至2013年,在苏利文领导的阿富汗战排的十几名口译员中,索迪斯和马苏德最为优秀。

两名口译都跟随他的战排执行了数十项任务,进入塔利班控制的村庄,手无寸铁地面临战火。

2013年,马苏德在工作时收到死亡威胁后便申请了特殊移民签证。申请材料中包括一封来自沙利文的推荐信,信中称他“守时、专业、精通语言,是值得信赖的朋友”。

“为了表达美国对他服务的感激,最少也应该提供一张特别移民签证。”沙利文写道。

两年后,马苏德的申请遭驳回。美国大使馆称,他没有为美国政府或军方工作过。然而,马苏德工作的美国公司与国防部签有合同,专为驻阿富汗部队提供语言服务。

马苏德提出上诉,沙利文给驻喀布尔的美国大使馆负责人又写了一封信,提供了更多工作细节,但无人回应。

沙利文找其他的老兵求助,想看看能够提供什么帮助。他发现花2万美元可以帮助马苏德偷渡,但沙利文不想支持犯罪网络。他还是希望申请美国签证的路能够走通。

与此同时,随着威胁升级,马苏德被迫各处躲藏,发给沙利文的信息也越来越少。

“他越来越慌乱害怕。”沙利文说。

2017年夏天,沙利文收到了最后一条信息。

“你好,很抱歉回信晚了。我遇到了问题。”马苏德的信息主要为未能跟朋友保持密切联系而致歉。

“我说过,没有关系的!”沙利文回了短信。

“你现在安全吗?”

然而,沙利文再也没有收到回复。

几周后,沙利文收到马苏德兄弟回复的电子邮件:“马苏德回家参加亲戚的葬礼,被塔利班开枪打死。”

沙利文沉浸在悲伤和内疚之中。他曾在Facebook上发过两人的合照,他觉得朋友身陷危险或许是因为自己行事不当。同时,他也在反思自己之前是不是应该更努力地保护朋友。

他说:“我感觉很无助,不知道还可以做什么。也许早应该把2万美元给肮脏的走私犯。”

马苏德死后一年半,沙利文终于收到了美国驻喀布尔大使馆的电子邮件,通知他阿富汗特殊移民签证处已经收到给马苏德的推荐信。

发信的官员想知道推荐信是否正当,沙利文还会不会推荐该申请人,从而开始审核流程。信中有一张留着浓密红发和稀疏胡子的马苏德的照片。

沙利文回信给大使馆说,在等待申请流程的四年多里,马苏德已遭到杀害。

2021年8月27日,喀布尔机场。8月26日机场发生两起自杀式炸弹,造成数十人死亡,其中包括13名美军士兵。爆炸现场遍地是逃离中阿富汗人的背包和物品。

一起死亡事件引发的连续反应

在马苏德遇害后,沙利文发生的事情告诉了他的翻译索迪斯,但沙利文没有得到对方的回复。

与马苏德一样,索迪斯也曾在2013年申请特别移民签证,但被拒签。他在2015年和2016年再次申请,但都被拒签。2017年他最后一次被拒签,沙利文给美国驻喀布尔大使馆写了信,说明支持索迪斯申请的理由。

后来,叔叔被斩首,而曾担任联军燃料卡车司机的邻居在自家门前被塔利班射杀,索迪斯因此决定自寻出路逃出阿富汗。索迪斯在图书馆自学了英语,因为他仰慕美国并且相信美国的使命。

他的计划是通过陆路前往欧洲。索迪斯的兄弟在一家旅行社有一位熟人,在这位熟人的帮助下,他办理了前往伊朗的旅游签证,他的家人认识一位住在伊朗的阿富汗人,索迪斯通过这个人联系上了第一位蛇头。

索迪斯背着一包衣服和价值100美元的伊朗里亚尔,开始了逃亡之旅。

他在途中结识了其他曾为联军工作的阿富汗人,他们也与他一样希望通过蛇头找到安全的庇护所。

索迪斯与其他难民一起被装进了人挤人的车厢里。他们曾经在夜间的暴风雪中翻越高山,还要躲避土耳其边防军的攻击。他曾经被蛇头毒打和抛弃,也曾经被警察关押和殴打。

与此同时,随着塔利班在当地的势力日益庞大,索迪斯留在阿富汗的家人也不得不搬家,并催促他尽快找到安全的地方。由于土耳其和希腊禁止阿富汗人入境,索迪斯决定前往德国。为了给他的逃亡之旅筹钱,家人卖掉了家里的小百货商店。

索迪斯用七个月时间,花了家里15,000美元,才最终抵达德国。入境德国之后,他马上申请避难,但由于缺乏足够的照片或资料能够证明他的说法,申请很快被驳回。

他打电话给已经一年多没有联系的沙利文。

这令沙利文喜出望外。他的第一反应是:“ 我的上帝,他还活着!”

四个月后,沙利文去德国见了索迪斯,并为他提供了帮助。

沙利文向德国法院写了一份报告。他给索迪斯寄去了许多照片,证明索迪斯曾经在他的站排工作,他还致信美国政府获取了索迪斯的档案,证明他的合同因为“放弃工作”而在2013年终止。

索迪斯说,他在一次任务中遭遇简易爆炸装置袭击,导致背部受伤。因回家治疗,他的30天假期超期。

索迪斯在2014年被美军重新雇佣,但他的合同由一家民用承包商负责管理。该承包商在2016年以工作表现不佳为由终止了与他的合同。

索迪斯是个表现出色的人。沙利文为此联系到2016年解雇索迪斯的民用国防承包商,询问事情的经过,但对方拒绝帮助他或为他提供解释。对方签字的文件只显示,他之所以被解雇是因为“他的能力不适合该部门的任务。”

面对美联社(The Associated Press)的询问,对方也不愿意回答是否记得索迪斯,或是否是出于安全考虑解雇了索迪斯。

索迪斯表示,承包商指控他在工作期间查看个人Facebook页面,但这一指控没有根据。

在苦苦等待德国法院判决两年之后,索迪斯已经陷入了深度抑郁的状态。他时刻担心被驱逐出境,还要承受头痛、后背痛和因为简易爆炸装置爆炸受伤而导致的其他疾病。

2020年3月,他曾经试图服用大量止痛药自杀。他曾经被诊断出患有创伤后应激障碍,在一家精神病院治疗近两个月。

他出院后发信息给沙利文。

索迪斯后来说道:“我现在能够活着,都要感谢斯潘塞,都是因为他。”

沙利文说,他只是在履行战场上许下的承诺。他正在帮助索迪斯写一本书,介绍自己作为阿富汗难民的经历。

目前,索迪斯已经安全。8月11日,由于局势动荡,德国临时停止驱逐所有阿富汗难民,但并没有具体说明该项命令会持续多久。

当谈到没有提供帮助的美国政府时,沙利文称:“德国正在填补我们在道德上的缺失。”

但索迪斯担心,一旦德国恢复驱逐阿富汗难民,他的好运总有一天会到头。

他在与沙利文的Zoom通话中哀叹道:“有时候,现在的生活真的让我无力抗争。”他担心阿富汗同胞的遭遇,也因无法拯救留在国内的亲人而感到愧疚,还因前途一片渺茫而深感焦虑。

他质疑自己如何才可以前往他梦寐以求的美国。

沙利文要他振作起来,并提醒他集中精力应对9月6日的避难听证会。

他说:“我们要做的第一件事情是让你活下去。我们先在德国申请避难,然后再考虑其他的可能。”

沙利文也必须保持专注。他感觉索迪斯是自己能够拯救的盟友。几天后,他收到了也曾在曾经在美国军事基地工作的马苏德兄弟发来的一封求助邮件。电子邮件中附上了他最近遇害的妈妈和叔叔的照片。

沙利文知道,对此他无能为力,因为他们没有一起共事的经历。

在位于不莱梅的一家服装店,索迪斯穿着一身黑西装走出更衣室,这是沙利文第二次来探望他。

在试衣镜前,沙利文一边转着指头一边拍着朋友的后背,开玩笑说:“很帅!转个圈。你看起来很精神。”

索迪斯露出了微笑。

这是两人在谈论过各自的经历和未来之后的一小会儿轻松时刻。

在沙利文离开之前,索迪斯情绪崩溃,哭了起来。沙利文拥抱着自己的好友。

他说:“没事的,你一定会成功的。”(财富中文网)

译者:Feb、Biz

The two men risked their lives together nearly a decade ago trying to eliminate the Taliban, dodging bullets and forever bonding in a way that can only be forged in war.

Now the American soldier and his Afghan translator were together again in Germany shopping for a suit. Abdulhaq Sodais's future hinges on an asylum hearing in a German court after he was denied a U.S. visa, and U.S. Army Veteran Spencer Sullivan was there to help him prepare.

Together, they watched videos from Sodais' hometown: The crackle of gunfire, dead bodies being carted off as black smoke billowed. Once U.S. troops withdrew, the fragile government built over years by people like Sodais and Sullivan collapsed in just days.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” Sodais said. “My father said the Taliban were knocking on every single door in Herat looking for guys who worked for the coalition forces.”

Sullivan already lost another translator, Sayed Masoud, who was killed by the Taliban while waiting for a U.S. visa. It's a scar Sullivan carries deeply, the realization that the U.S. government is capable of the one thing he never believed: betrayal.

Sullivan was determined not to let Sodais, who used smugglers to get to Europe, suffer the same fate.

So he flew from California to Germany to help Sodais pick out something to wear for his Sept. 6 asylum hearing.

In a world of hurt and uncertainty, buying a suit was the one thing Sullivan could control. It offered a small hope of making a difference. A professional appearance just might convince a judge to help keep Sodais safe and uphold the sacred vow that America was unable to keep.

“I made a promise to him just as America made a promise to him to protect him and save his life,” Sullivan said. “I mean how can you turn your back on that promise? I don’t think the answer is more complicated than that. I think it’s actually very simple.”

Solo rescuers

Sullivan is among scores of U.S. combat veterans working on their own to rescue the Afghans who served alongside them.

Their efforts started long before August’s chaotic rush to evacuate Afghans after the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdraw from America’s forever war.

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

The program was meant to award Afghans for their support by giving them and their families a pathway to the United States. But it has fallen far short, with Congress failing to approve enough visas each year, while the former Trump administration added new security requirements and bureaucratic hurdles that turned the average wait time from a few months into nearly three years.

Others have been denied over what immigration attorneys say were minor or unjust discrepancies in their performance records. Many now fear that the time they were marked as late to work, unfairly or accidentally even, may cost them their escape, and possibly their life.

Standout interpreters

Sodais and Masoud stood out among the dozen interpreters who worked with the platoon Sullivan led in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013.

Both interpreters went with his platoon on dozens of missions into villages controlled by the Taliban, taking on fire while unarmed.

In 2013, Masoud applied for a special immigrant visa after receiving death threats for his work. His application included a letter of recommendation from Sullivan who described him as “punctual and professional, an exemplary linguist and trustworthy friend.”

“Granting him a special immigration visa is the least that can be done in order to express America’s gratitude for his services,” Sullivan wrote.

Two years later, Masoud’s application was denied. The U.S. embassy said he had not worked for the U.S. government or its military. In fact, Masoud was hired by a U.S. firm that had a contract with the Department of Defense to provide linguistic services to troops in Afghanistan.

Masoud appealed and Sullivan wrote another letter to the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, Kabul, providing more details of his work, but he got no response.

Sullivan reached out to other veterans to see what he could do. He learned he could pay $20,000 to get Masoud smuggled out, but he didn’t want to support a criminal network. Instead, he hoped the U.S. government would come through on its end.

Meanwhile, Masoud’s texts to Sullivan became more sporadic as the threats escalated, forcing him to move from house to house.

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

Sullivan got the last one in the summer of 2017.

“Hello sir. I am so sorry to reply you late. I got a problem,” Masoud wrote, apologizing for not keeping in better touch with his friend.

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

Sullivan never got a reply.

Weeks later, Masoud’s brother answered an email Sullivan sent to Masoud’s account: Masoud had been shot by the Taliban after returning home for a relative’s funeral and was dead.

Sullivan was consumed by sadness and guilt. He felt partly responsible since he had posted Facebook pictures of them and wondered if he had put his friend at risk. He wondered, too, if he could have done more to protect him.

“I felt helpless,” he said. “I didn’t know what else I could have done. Maybe I should have spent the $20,000 to pay seedy smugglers.”

A year and 1/2 after his death, Sullivan got an email from the U.S. embassy in Kabul informing him that the Afghanistan Special Immigrant Visa Unit had received his recommendation letter for Masoud.

The official wanted to know if the letter was legitimate and if Sullivan would still recommend the applicant so they could begin the process. It included a photo of Masoud with his thick red hair and thin moustache.

Sullivan wrote back to the embassy to inform them that Masoud had been killed while waiting more than four years for his application to be processed.

A death reverberates

After Masoud’s death, Sullivan texted Sodais to tell him what had happened to his fellow translator. But he got no reply.

Like Masoud, Sodais also had applied for a special immigrant visa in 2013 and was denied. He applied again in 2015 and 2016. Sullivan sent the U.S. embassy in Kabul letters to support his case. His last rejection came in 2017.

After Sodais’ uncle was beheaded, and his neighbor, who worked as a fuel truck driver for coalition forces, was gunned down by the Taliban while standing in his front doorway, Sodais, who taught himself English using library books because he admired America and believed in its mission, decided he had to find another way out.

His plan would be to go to Europe by land. His brother, who knew someone in a travel agency, helped him get a tourist visa to Iran, and his family knew an Afghan man living there who would end up connecting Sodais to the first of a long line of smugglers.

Sodais left with a backpack full of clothes, and $100 worth of Iranian rials.

Along the way, he met other Afghans who worked for coalition forces also now turning to smugglers to find safe refuge.

Sodais was crammed into cars with refugees stacked on top of each on the floors. They hiked through the mountains in a snowstorm at night and dodged gunfire from Turkish border guards. He was beaten and abandoned by smugglers and jailed and beaten by police.

Meanwhile, his family back in Afghanistan was forced to move because of the Taliban’s growing presence in the area, and urged him to get to safety. He decided to head to Germany since Turkey and Greece were deporting Afghans at the time. His family sold their small general store in Afghanistan to fund his journey.

In the end, it took him seven months and would cost his family $15,000 to get to Germany. Once there, he applied for asylum but was lacking sufficient photos or documentation to support his claims and was immediately denied.

He called Sullivan, who he had not spoken to in more than a year.

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

Four months later, Sullivan went to see him in Germany and offered to help his case.

Sullivan wrote a transcript for the German court. He sent him photos of his time with his platoon and wrote to the U.S. government to get his record, which showed his contract was terminated in 2013 due to “job abandonment.”

Sodais says he overextended his 30-day leave after going home to deal with a back injury from the blast of an improvised explosive device during a mission.

He was rehired in 2014 by the U.S. military but his contract was administered by a civilian contractor who terminated it in 2016 due to poor job performance.

Sullivan contacted the civilian defense contractor who fired Sodais in 2016 to ask what happened since he had found his work exemplary, but she refused to help him or provide an explanation. The paperwork she signed stated only that he was being released due to “incompatible skill set with the unit’s mission.”

She also would not answer questions about whether she remembered Sodais or had a security concern when contacted by The Associated Press.

Sodais said she falsely accused him of checking his personal Facebook page on the job.

Sodais fell into a deep depression after two years of waiting for a decision by the German courts. The fear of being deported was overwhelming, and he suffered headaches, back aches and other ailments from injuries from the IED blast.

In March of 2020, he tried to end his life, overdosing on pain medication. He spent nearly two months in a psychiatric ward after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When he got out, he messaged Sullivan.

“I’m alive right now because of Spencer, because of him,” Sodais said later.

Sullivan said he’s just keeping the promise he made on the battlefield. He is helping Sodais write a book to shed light on the experience of Afghan refugees.

For now, Sodais is safe. On Aug. 11, Germany temporarily halted the deportation of all Afghans due to the upheaval but did not specify how long the order would last.

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

But Sodais worries his luck will run out once deportations resume.

“Really sometimes, it’s really hard for me to fight against this life,” he said on a Zoom call with Sullivan as he rattled off his fears over what’s happening in Afghanistan, his guilt over not being able to save his family there, and his anxiety over whether he will ever have a future.

And how will he ever get to the United States, where he wants to live? he asks.

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

“Step one is we keep you alive,” he said. “We get you asylum in Germany and everything else will follow.”

Sullivan had to stay focused, too. Sodais was the one U.S. ally he felt he could possibly save. Days later, he would get an email from Masoud's brother, who worked for a U.S. military base, pleading for help. He included photos of his mother and uncle who were recently killed.

Sullivan knew there was little he could do since they had never worked together.

At the suit store in Bremen, on Sullivan's second visit, Sodais exited the dressing room in a black suit.

“Nice! Do a spin,” Sullivan joked, twirling his finger and patting his friend on back as they look in mirror. “You’re looking sharp.”

Sodais chuckled.

It is a moment of lightness after talking about what they’ve been through and what’s to come.

Before Sullivan leaves, Sodais breaks down, and Sullivan embraces him as he sobs.

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

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