by Mikael Cook
When Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the Taliban in the summer of 2021, Staff Sergeant Liyaquat Qurbanali, a member of the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing and an American citizen never thought he would have to go back to Afghanistan to save his family. Being a current member of the U.S. Air Force, he assumed the government would assist in evacuating his mother, sister, and grandmother – his only living immediate family. His request for aid fell on deaf ears.
Qurbanali immigrated from Afghanistan to the United States in 2010 and became a U.S. citizen in 2015.
Once a citizen he chose to join the military as a way of giving back to his new homeland.
As the Taliban swept through the country, Qurbanali’s command reached out to several non-
government organizations for assistance with evacuation. Aside from providing evacuation
recommendation memos, none of Qurbanali’s leaders knew how to help, although many tried. Qurbanali nonetheless felt his family had been betrayed by his adopted country.
When the Taliban entered Qurbanali’s hometown of Ghazni, they searched door to door looking for
American sympathizers. Neighbors told the Taliban the family’s home belonged to the relatives of a
member of the United States military. Talibs took aim at the house and sprayed it with 7.62mm rounds from their AK-47s. Luckily the family was not at home. When they returned to find their windows shattered and their walls riddled with bullet holes, they left their home and began life on the run.
Qurbanali’s command had continued searching for people who might have the capacity to help. Through word of mouth, they heard that I had helped an Army family evacuate Afghanistan in an operation involving Senator Blumenthal and Sayara International. Qurbanali’s chain of command reached out to request assistance.
I reached out to Flanders Fields, a 501(c)3 supplying safe houses in Mazar e-Sharif, where a second, lesser-known airport hosted the occasional charter flight for refugees. The group secured Qurbanali’s family a small, shared apartment where they could hide from the Taliban. The family made the seven-hour journey through dangerous Taliban checkpoints to Mazar e-Sharif. They waited in the city for four months, hoping to hear that they would soon be taken out of Afghanistan.
Getting the family to a safer location was only the first step in our journey. Next, we had to start our
advocacy work to help secure American visas for the family. Acquiring visas for the direct family of a US
Airman was going to be easy, I thought. I was wrong. While his mother qualified for a visa as immediate
family, his young sister and grandmother did not. As the caretaker of both, she couldn’t leave them.
Qurbanali applied for Humanitarian Parole for his family, paying $3500 in application and medical fees
to the US government. Letters of support flooded in from Qurbanali’s chain of command. We worked
closely with Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Oh.) office to look for paths for the family. Even the Assistant Adjutant
General for the Air Ohio National Guard wrote a letter on Qurbanali’s family’s behalf. Through this process, we realized the SIV system was broken and could not provide the necessary protections for immediate family members of American service members.
When I got a phone call from Qurbanali in June of this year, it was clear that he was in a desperate
situation. Even if Humanitarian Parole were approved, it could take years before his family got out of
Afghanistan. Qurbanali was not willing to wait. He booked a flight to Pakistan and started looking for
options to sneak back into Afghanistan to find his family.
Qurbanali found a human trafficker who was willing to smuggle them across the border for a large fee.
He paid it.
Today, two years after the Taliban bullets shredded through their family home, the family still sits in
fear. Qurbanali’s family lacks visas that permit them to stay in Pakistan. As illegal refugees, they’re hidden in a safe house to avoid the Pakistani police who are deporting refugees back into Taliban hands.
Now, their pending humanitarian visa applications are the only means by which the family could find
respite. The family prays someone will see their case and help reunite them with their son – a man who
has dedicated his life to a foreign country that promised him better, and who, like so many others, has
been left out to dry.
Mikael Cook is a former Army Staff Sergeant. Author of “Life and Death at Abbey Gate” and co-host of “The Afghanistan Project Podcast.” Mikael is an active member of the veteran community and continues his advocacy work for our Afghan allies left behind.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.
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