Army veteran seeks help as asylum petitions for family in Afghanistan languish
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 13, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan-born U.S. Army veteran has turned to the military and online communities for help after years of waiting for officials to act on asylum applications he filed for his family in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, the Taliban hold your entire family responsible for whatever you do,” Said Noor told Stars and Stripes in a phone interview from Texas.
The 32-year-old applied for asylum for his father, mother, six brothers and two sisters in June 2018, about four years after moving to the U.S. in 2014 on a special immigrant visa, which he was given after being threatened and attacked for working as a military linguist for several years.
Since then, he said, his family’s situation has grown worse, but he’s had little news from the authorities about the status of the applications.
“We had to take my sister and little brother out of school. The family is just stuck in the house. They’re not even able to go buy their own groceries; someone has to bring everything to them,” he said.
Late last month, Noor posted a petition on the Change.org website, seeking help from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Because of my previous work and having proudly served in the US military, myself and my family have been constantly targeted by terrorists,” he wrote in the petition.
“As a disabled veteran and a proud American, I am kindly asking you to help share this petition, so that together we can save (the) lives of my family, and get this petition to the right authorities to seek asylum for my family and bring them to the United States,” he wrote.
His large family lives in the eastern province of Khost, where Noor was born. Khost borders Pakistan and is a stronghold of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, which is also linked to al-Qaida and other extremist groups.
Noor gave up his Afghan passport and enlisted in the Army soon after arriving in the U.S. in 2014. He deployed to Afghanistan once during his four years in the military, where his hearing was impaired by a rocket attack.
He joined the military to show appreciation for the country he would “do anything for,” he said.
But it was his service as an American soldier that put his family in Khost in even graver danger than when he started working in Afghanistan as a linguist for the U.S. military in 2007, he said. The family was harassed and menaced back then, but the biggest threat to their lives came two years ago when Noor returned to Afghanistan as a U.S. citizen after separating from the Army.
“We had a large get-together and somebody brought a motorcycle and parked it in front of my house,” Noor said. “When I stepped outside with some relatives and friends, it went off.”
Noor believes he was the target of the blast, which killed five people, including two Afghan soldiers, and wounded over a dozen others, including Noor and four members of his family.
His brother Sayed Mohammad said the attack still weighs on his and the rest of the family’s minds.
“We still feel we’re in danger and we’ve started doing night surveillance of our property,” Mohammad said in a telephone interview from Khost. “All my brothers and I take turns, night by night.”
The family worries not only about their personal safety but also the security situation in the country, particularly about what will happen in Afghanistan once international forces withdraw, Mohammad said. Under a deal signed in February by the U.S. and Taliban, all foreign forces could leave by May.
The recent firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Donald Trump’s appointment of outspoken Afghan war critic, retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, as a senior Pentagon advisor have added to concerns among Afghans — and Americans — that the U.S. might accelerate the troop withdrawal, despite escalating violence around the country. Trump said last month that he wanted U.S. troops home by Christmas, although military officials quickly back-pedaled that statement.
The uncertainty over Afghanistan’s future and continuing threats against his family have left Noor feeling that the asylum applications for his family are at a critical phase.
As of Friday, nearly 1,600 people had signed his petition on Change.org.
“He is a brother of ours and has served this great nation,” wrote Brian Erickson of Pendleton, Ind., who added his name soon after Noor posted the petition three weeks ago. “Show the veteran community that the government gives a damn about us and our loved ones.”
Steven Morse of Quincy, Mass., was one of several signers who said they had served with Noor. “He’s the definition of a true American who always chose the hard right over the easy wrong,” Morse wrote.
Others, like Eileen Szczawinski of Shillington, Penn., said they signed because the U.S. owes Noor a debt of gratitude.
“This man put his life on the line to help American soldiers,” she wrote. “Now it’s our turn to help him and his family.”
Once the petition has reached its goal of 10,000 signatures, Noor plans to send it to Congress in the hope that lawmakers might speed up the asylum process.
“A lot of people don’t realize how bad the situation is in Afghanistan,” Noor said. “Some people desperately need to get of there. My family are some of those people — because I put them in danger by supporting the U.S.”
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.
Said Noor poses for a photo while serving in the U.S. Army. Noor enlisted in the military after coming to the U.S. in 2014 on a special immigrant visa, which he was given for his work as a linguist in Afghanistan. He launched an online petition last month to garner support for his application for his family to be granted asylum in the U.S.