US soldier wins long fight to get Afghan translator asylum

Army combat veteran Spencer Sullivan has never felt more victorious.

Sullivan spent years fighting to get his Afghan translator asylum after his former platoon’s other interpreter was denied a U.S. visa before being killed by the Taliban in 2017.

On Wednesday, Abdulhaq Sodais was finally granted asylum by a court in Germany, where he was forced to flee after being denied a U.S. visa repeatedly despite facing death threats for aiding U.S. troops during its 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Sullivan, who now lives in Virginia, said he dropped his phone when he saw the text message from Sodais.

“I just started crying,” Sullivan said.

The decision marked the end of an eight-year journey between the two men who risked their lives together trying to eliminate the Taliban, bonding in a way that can only be forged in war.

Sullivan dedicated himself to helping Sodais after losing another translator, Sayed Masoud, who was killed by the Taliban in 2017 while waiting for a U.S. visa. The former soldier is among scores of U.S. combat veterans who have been working on their own to rescue the Afghans who served alongside them.

“It’s ultimately just cathartic relief,” said Sullivan, adding that he was overwhelmed with emotion Wednesday in part because it also opened the war wound that he couldn’t help Masoud. “This long journey is over but Sayed didn’t make it.”

Thousands of Afghans who aided U.S. troops have spent years stuck in a backlogged and beleaguered U.S. Special Immigrant Visa program, and countless others were denied because of minor inconsistencies in their work records, such as showing up late to their jobs, according to veterans who worked with them.

Sodais first applied for a U.S. visa in 2013 but was denied. He appealed four times before ultimately fleeing to Germany after his uncle was beheaded and his neighbor who worked for the U.S. military was gunned down by the Taliban.

Sodais traveled for seven months going through nearly a half dozen countries. He was beaten and abandoned by smugglers and jailed and beaten by police before reaching Germany, where his first asylum request was denied.

Sullivan wrote letters of recommendation, provided photos of his time with his platoon and obtained records from the U.S. government that showed his denial was based on a vague review by a civilian contractor who Sodais said falsely accused him of checking social media on the job.

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. Sodais said he believes Sullivan’s letters of recommendation made the difference in finally being granted asylum. His case will be reviewed in three years when he can then apply to become a German citizen.

Sodais said he looks forward to getting his German passport so he can someday visit Sullivan and they can travel together so Sodais can finally see the United States.

“I’m feeling right now that I will have an amazing future,” he said.