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Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter Zainab, 5, share a meal in their hiding spot of six months before leaving Afghanistan for the U.S. on May 31, 2021. Asadi, an Afghan pilot, received permission to come to America last fall due to Taliban death threats, but that permission had been rescinded.
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter Zainab, 5, share a meal in their hiding spot of six months before leaving Afghanistan for the U.S. on May 31, 2021. Asadi, an Afghan pilot, received permission to come to America last fall due to Taliban death threats, but that permission had been rescinded. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Zainab Asadi, 5, snacks on chocolate May 31, 2021, in the home where she and her family hid for six months. Her father, Mohammed Naiem Asadi, said he moved his family into hiding after his superiors in the Afghan air force became angry that he received permission to leave the country for America.
Zainab Asadi, 5, snacks on chocolate May 31, 2021, in the home where she and her family hid for six months. Her father, Mohammed Naiem Asadi, said he moved his family into hiding after his superiors in the Afghan air force became angry that he received permission to leave the country for America. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, once a pilot in the Afghan air force, still has a flipbook for information on the MD-530 helicopter. Asadi, prior to last fall, was reputed to have killed more Taliban than anyone else in the Afghan air force.
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, once a pilot in the Afghan air force, still has a flipbook for information on the MD-530 helicopter. Asadi, prior to last fall, was reputed to have killed more Taliban than anyone else in the Afghan air force. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter, Zainab, meet with lawyer Kimberley Motley prior to leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 1, 2021. Motley said the family received visas in early May to come to America after months of uncertainty.
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter, Zainab, meet with lawyer Kimberley Motley prior to leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 1, 2021. Motley said the family received visas in early May to come to America after months of uncertainty. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter, Zainab, meet with lawyer Kimberley Motley prior to leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 1, 2021. Motley said the family received visas in early May to come to America after months of uncertainty.
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter, Zainab, meet with lawyer Kimberley Motley prior to leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 1, 2021. Motley said the family received visas in early May to come to America after months of uncertainty. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Rahima Asadi, left, her daughter Zainab, and the family’s lawyer, Kimberley Motley, stand by their luggage prior to leaving Afghanistan on June 1, 2021. For six months, the Asadis hid on the outskirts of Kabul due to fears of assassination by the Taliban and retribution from the Afghan government for wanting to leave the country.
Rahima Asadi, left, her daughter Zainab, and the family’s lawyer, Kimberley Motley, stand by their luggage prior to leaving Afghanistan on June 1, 2021. For six months, the Asadis hid on the outskirts of Kabul due to fears of assassination by the Taliban and retribution from the Afghan government for wanting to leave the country. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter Zainab prepare to leave for the U.S. after arriving at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 1, 2021. The family has received death threats from the Taliban and obtained parole, a temporary status for noncitizens to come to America.
Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter Zainab prepare to leave for the U.S. after arriving at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 1, 2021. The family has received death threats from the Taliban and obtained parole, a temporary status for noncitizens to come to America. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan air force pilot who had been promised refuge in America last fall, only to be rejected at the last minute, finally arrived on U.S. soil Wednesday with his family. 

Mohammed Naiem Asadi, his wife Rahima, and their daughter Zainab, 5, have been conditionally approved for parole, a temporary status for noncitizens to come to America, U.S. immigration services said in a letter to the family. 

“This is a real recognition that this man’s life is in significant danger in Afghanistan,” said the family’s lawyer, Kimberly Motley, who came to Kabul to escort the family to America. 

The family passed through immigration and plans to file for asylum in the U.S., Motley said in an interview Monday. 

Asadi, a helicopter pilot reputed to have killed more insurgents than anyone else in the Afghan air force, received a rare endorsement by the Pentagon last fall to move to the U.S. with his family because he was in “imminent danger of being killed by the Taliban.” 

But the Defense Department later withdrew its approval, saying that senior officials had not been consulted. 

The decision angered former advisers who vouched for Asadi’s bid to come to America. As a major in the Afghan air force, Asadi protected the life of a downed U.S. pilot last year and, by one former chief warrant officer’s estimate, had been in the cockpit for 70% of all missions in southern Afghanistan in recent years. 

“It’s shameful what happened on that last day, that someone changed their mind in the DOD,” said Andy Miller, a retired Army chief warrant officer who helped train Asadi. “At the last minute, the rug was yanked out from under them.” 

Asadi and his family received death threats from the Taliban that were determined credible by U.S. investigators last fall. 

The Taliban have launched attacks all over the country as U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, with assassinations killing politicians, journalists and military personnel. The continuing violence has raised calls for the U.S. to protect or evacuate Afghans under threat for working with them. 

However, a Pentagon spokesman told The Wall Street Journal last year that so many military personnel are under threat that letting them all seek refuge in America would “absolutely gut the Afghan security forces.” 

Some advisers who supported Asadi’s bid to come to America acknowledged that helping one of the country’s few elite pilots leave the country weakens its ability to stave off the Taliban. 

But in addition to threats from the Taliban, Asadi feared retribution from the Afghan military for trying to leave the country with his family. 

Pilots who report threats against them often receive little sympathy and may be threatened with punishment or imprisonment, said Niloofar Rahmani, Afghanistan’s first female fixed-wing pilot and also a client of Motley. She was granted asylum in America in 2018 after receiving numerous death threats. 

After the U.S. military withdrew its endorsement, Asadi and his family went into hiding, first at Bagram Airfield and then in a house on the outskirts of Kabul while he reapplied for refuge in America. 

With the family’s departure from Afghanistan, supporters of the family hope to greet the Asadi family in person soon. Among these is Capt. Laurie Witherspoon, an Army chaplain who met the family as they hid at Bagram last fall. She said she began visiting the family regularly, giving stuffed animals and coloring books to their daughter. 

The chaplain said she spoke with the fa­mily almost daily over the last six months.  

“Lots of emotional highs and lows,” Witherspoon said in a text message. “Asadi’s faith, humility and courage has strengthened the roots of our international friendship.” 

Once the family comes to America, Witherspoon said she plans to help give English lessons to Rahima, in exchange for Afghan cooking classes. 

The family’s supporters in America have set up a charity drive, at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-asadi-family, to help with their living expenses. 

As the family prepared to leave Afghanistan on Tuesday, Zainab played with a rose and said “goodbye” to people in English as her parents loaded their luggage into a car bound for the airport. 

While in the air Wednesday on the way to the family’s new home, the former pilot Asadi reflected on his life growing up in a small rural village, and then flying in the skies in the war ravaging his country. He recalled the friends he lost, and thanked those who helped him come to America. He wrote that he hoped for peace one day in Afghanistan. He remained hopeful for a life without fear in America.

Before landing on U.S. soil, he wrote: “I am glad that today it was proved once again that humanity knows no boundaries and human beings can embrace each other with love in all their differences.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report. 

lawrence.jp@stripes.com 

Twitter: @jplawrence3   

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J.p. Lawrence reports on the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2017. He graduated from Columbia Journalism School and Bard College and is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.
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