Afghan journalist and translator finally reunited on American soil

They are grateful to see each other again.

In late November 2020, journalist Toby Harnden was in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan to research his new book, “First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11”, and work with a ingenious young translator and doctor. student named Rohullah Sadat.

A year later — the day after Thanksgiving — the couple were reunited outside New Jersey’s Fort Dix under very different circumstances. Harnden was taking Sadat, now a refugee, to his home in Virginia, where his former translator will live in a guest bedroom as he navigates his new life in the United States.

“I’m going to Toby’s,” Sadat, 29, told The Post. “It’s exciting and moving. I hugged him tight and it felt amazing.

Harnden, who had driven three hours to the Garden State to pick up Sadat, had brought his dog, Loafer, along for the trip. Sadat and the dog bonded immediately.

Journalist Toby Harnden and his Afghan translator Rohullah Sadat meet outside Fort Dix in New Jersey.
Courtesy of Toby Harnden

“In general, Afghans are not used to having dogs as pets. But Loafer is a rescue… so they have a lot in common,” Harnden told the Post from the road.

“I have to take Rohullah to a typically American place, like Cracker Barrel,” he added.

After a few trying months, Sadat finally tastes America.

A selfie of Sadat when he landed in Qatar after fleeing Afghanistan
A selfie of Sadat during his first landing in Qatar after fleeing Afghanistan.
Courtesy of Rohullah Sadat

After the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in late August and the Taliban seized power in the region, Sadat, like many of his compatriots, was desperate to flee.

Without help from the US government, Harnden drew attention to Sadat’s plight through social media and exploited connections that facilitated his dangerous escape from Afghanistan. Sadat first flew to Doha, Qatar, where he spent a few weeks before finally making his way to the United States on a humanitarian parole visa.

For the past 36 days, Sadat has been living in a refugee camp at Fort Dix – along with nearly 9,000 other Afghans – where he has taken classes to acclimatize to life in the United States.

“We had culture lessons and driving lessons. They teach you everything; how to get to the barber and what to tip the waiters. They told us how to treat women and how to respect them. In America, women are very nice, so we don’t have to take it seriously if they smile at you. Don’t think they are in love with you,” Sadat explained.

They also learned coping skills, such as patience and responsibility. There were lessons on American history and geography. Sadat was particularly interested in Alaska and Hawaii, as they are physically detached from the mainland. And he played volleyball, basketball and football with troops on base.

“We beat the troops in volleyball, but football is new to us. You need a special technique to kick the ball accurately,” said Sadat, who played cricket in his native country.

He also had his first traditional turkey dinner on Thursday. While at Fort Dix, the polyglot, who speaks six languages, found himself serving as an interpreter for his fellow refugees. But he was eager to leave and embark on the new phase of his life.

“When you visit the camp, everyone is Afghan, so you don’t feel like you’re in America. You feel like you are in Kabul,” he said. But with Harnden as a close contact established, he was able to leave as an “independent departure”.

Harnden and Sadat in Afghanistan in November 2020
Harnden and Sadat in Afghanistan in November 2020.
Courtesy of Toby Harnden

Most of the refugees stay in the camp until the government finds them accommodation. Currently, they place them in states such as Kentucky, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to Harnden.

“He really wanted to go out. If you have no family or connections, the government finds you accommodation. It takes time,” Harnden said.

The British-born US citizen, who has written two books on Afghanistan, said he would eat Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner. And Sadat is eager to try local seafood specialties such as prawns and crab legs.

This weekend, they’ll meet with members of Alpha Team, the subject of Harnden’s latest book, which chronicles the CIA’s first invasion of Afghanistan. They will visit the grave of Alpha Team member and America’s first victim Mike Spann, who died 20 years ago on Nov. 25.

Harnden said Sadat would continue to get help from members of the Alpha team, including retired CIA officer David Tyson, Spann’s widow Shannon, and a New York City doctor. Jersey.

“There is a Dr. [Abul] Azim who is an Afghan-American and left in the late 90s. He is a central figure in this small, informal Afghan aid group. He talks to them every day [and] walk them through this process because he knows a lot about the system,” Harnden said.

Sadat, who was in his last year of medicine before leaving his native country, has his own program.

“I want to continue my medical studies,” Sadat said. But before he begins the complicated process of furthering his education and becoming a doctor, he hopes to find a job and get his green card.

Sadat Bonds With Loafer, Harnden Loafer's Adorable Rescue Pup
Sadat bonds with Loafer, Harnden’s adorable rescue pup.
Courtesy of Toby Harnden

As Sadat drove with Harnden to his new digs in Virginia, he reflected on the horrors he had witnessed while trying to flee his homeland. He has seen desperate people fall from planes, seen women trampled to death at Kabul airport and been trapped in a hot, overcrowded bus for more than 24 hours.

“It’s a nightmare for me and I can’t get it out of my brain. I can not forget [those who died or continue to suffer]and I feel guilty,” he said, adding, “But I also feel lucky and grateful.