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‘You can’t just abandon these people’: Former Afghan interpreter, US soldier seeks asylum for family

Said Noor, with General Austin S. Miller, the last commander of US forces in Afghanistan, worked as an Afghan interpreter before becoming a US citizen and joining the Army.
Said Noor, with General Austin S. Miller, the last commander of US forces in Afghanistan, worked as an Afghan interpreter before becoming a US citizen and joining the Army.

For years, Said Noor put himself in danger helping US forces in Afghanistan — first as an interpreter for troops, then as a soldier with the US Army. Now, as the Taliban have seized control over the country, Noor fears the worst for his family trapped in Kabul.

But Noor, who said he has asked the US government for three years to relocate his family, has not heard whether the Biden administration will move them as the US ends its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan.

Noor, now a 31-year-old US citizen living in Houston, fears his work for the US places his family in mortal danger if they remain, he said.

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“All the risks I took were worth it, and I did it for the right reasons,” he said. “But I do believe that [by] taking on that risk, and putting my family in harm’s way, there is no protection in Afghanistan. I believe the government should do something to bring my family here, and not to leave them in Afghanistan.”

His calls for help were echoed Sunday by some former comrades from Massachusetts, including Christopher Collins, who served in Afghanistan as a member of the Massachusetts National Guard in 2010 and 2011.

Noor, Collins said, played a vital role in their mission in building relationships with local people — and in keeping soldiers safe. He and his family risked their lives for years, Collins said, and the government must help Noor’s loved ones escape Afghanistan.

“He helped us out,” Collins said. “You can’t just abandon these people.”

Said Noor with now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2018.
Said Noor with now-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2018.

Noor’s pleas for help came as the Afghan government collapsed Sunday, its president and many top officials fleeing the country while thousands of people clogged the streets of Kabul and the city’s airport ended commercial air service.

The Taliban’s rapid re-taking of the country it ruled from 1996 to 2001 reportedly shocked Biden and senior administration leaders, a stunning rebuke to American efforts to reshape the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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Representative Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat who served in Iraq as a Marine, decried the rapid failure of Afghanistan’s government in a statement Sunday. Moulton strongly criticized the lack of an immediate evacuation of US allies even after Congress voted to expand a Special Immigrant Visa program to help Afghans get out of the country,

“America and our allies must drop the onerous visa requirements where a typo can condemn an ally to torture and death, and the military must continue the evacuation for as long as it takes,” he said.

Noor, speaking in an phone interview from his home in Houston, said he was a child in Afghanistan’s Khost province during the Taliban’s previous rule. He vividly described the brutality of that regime and the beatings his mother received at their hands.

When American forces arrived in his village’s region in 2002, Noor said he viewed them as liberators. When he was 16, Noor became an interpreter in 2007 and quickly began to view the US soldiers as a second family, he said.

It wasn’t long before he wanted to join their ranks.

“I always wanted to be a soldier, I knew they fought for the right reason there. I always wanted to put that uniform on, and put that flag on my shoulder,” he said. “I was able to do it.”

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He spent seven years working as an interpreter between troops and local people, helping soldiers navigate the culture and traditions of local Afghans, while also helping to identify potential threats.

Said Noor while deployed as a US Army soldier in Afghanistan in front of the governor's office in the country's Paktia province in 2018.
Said Noor while deployed as a US Army soldier in Afghanistan in front of the governor's office in the country's Paktia province in 2018.

Noor’s work placed himself and his family at risk from Taliban reprisal, he said, and they often paid the price. He changed his name to Noor to protect his loved ones’ identities, and would sometimes wear a mask on duty to hide his face.

His work did not go unnoticed by insurgents, however, and Noor said he was attacked four times while serving as an interpreter. By 2014, he immigrated to the United States for his own safety and to keep his family from harm.

He applied for US citizenship and sought enlistment in the Army, he said, and accomplished both in 2017.

He served four years as a soldier and his duties included training American troops in Louisiana about Afghan culture, as well as a deployment in Afghanistan as an interpreter and adviser to American military personnel.

He met members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Representatives Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Adam Schiff of California, and General Austin S. Miller, who became the final commander of US forces in Afghanistan.

Noor left the Army in 2020, after he said he was unable to visit his family in Afghanistan as a military member. But shortly after returning to his homeland last September, the Taliban struck.

An improvised explosive device attached to a motorcycle exploded outside his family’s home, he said, killing five people and wounding 10 others. Noor was some distance from the blast but was still injured and was hospitalized for two days, he said.

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Noor returned to the United States, and redoubled his efforts to get his family — including his parents and seven siblings — out of the country.

Noor returned to Afghanistan last month to try to get them out. They managed to travel the dangerous route from their village to Kabul, with his mother helping to bluff their way past Taliban guards by feigning illness and saying she needed medical care in the capital city.

He wasn’t able to secure their passage out of Afghanistan, however, and returned to Houston. He said he has spent the past several weeks pleading with leaders in Congress and in the Biden administration for help, but has not heard back.

He speaks frequently with his family in Kabul and on Sunday, he said, he was calling them virtually every hour.

“They are as worried and concerned as I am,” he said. “The situation is getting really, really bad in Afghanistan.”

Said Noor with US Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland.
Said Noor with US Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Collins said his company was assigned to the Khost province, where they provided security for engineers who helped build schools and other infrastructure, Collins said.

Noor was loyal, helpful, and trusted by the soldiers, Collins said. While Noor worked to keep troops out of danger, he also helped protect soldiers during firefights, he said.

“He was essentially there from day one; he was the best interpreter. We all loved him,” Collins said. “He really was there for the cause, he was there for the betterment of Afghanistan.”

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Justin Pothier, another member of the state National Guard who deployed with Collins, also urged that the government get Noor’s family out of Afghanistan.

Pothier, who is the son of a Globe editor, described Noor as their “go to” linguist.

“I think it’s a shame [for] people who risked their lives for years for us. There was no plan involved ... they should have been evacuated months ago, if not years ago,” Pothier said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.