A massive, informal effort to evacuate thousands of vulnerable people has sprung up in Afghanistan as US military veterans, diplomats and politicians scramble to meet President Biden’s August 31 deadline.
Controversial private military contractor Erik Prince is charging evacuees $6,500 to get them safely to the airport and on flights, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was part of an effort to charter planes to rescue women.
It’s all part of an operation to evacuate foreigners and help thousands of Afghans who worked for the US military, foreign governments or charities fearing death at the hands of the Taliban.
“It’s just an estimate, but we probably got 1,500 people out of the country,” said Lt. Col. Russell Worth Parker of Task Force Dunkirk, a hastily assembled group of special operations and CIA veterans.
His figure includes work done with similar coalitions — including Team America, which uses digital expertise to track and advise people on the ground, and Task Force Pineapple, which began an operation to rescue an Afghan commando killed by the Taliban. being hunted down – and all the more established non-profit No One Left Behind.
Thousands of people still wait outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, many present papers they believe are eligible for resettlement abroad
The lucky ones will board a military transport plane for a new life in a safe country
Rescue efforts include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was involved in an effort to charter a plane for vulnerable women, and private military contractor Erik Prince who offers his company’s expertise for a price.
They each grew from the same seed.
“Each one of us thought, There’s one or two guys we need to get out of,” Parker said. “That’s how most of these things started.”
And they are motivated by similar instincts.
“My last time in Afghanistan was supporting Afghan special operators, so we have many friends to whom we feel a deep debt of loyalty,” Parker added.
That debt fuels an operation that relies on Pentagon contacts, calls to congressional offices and the know-how of years in Afghanistan.
Their task has gained extra urgency in the past 24 hours.
On Tuesday, the Taliban announced they would close the road to the airport to Afghans, who were told they could no longer flee.
Hours later, Biden announced that evacuation efforts were “on pace” to complete by the end of the month.
The White House said it believes foreigners and Afghans in distress can still reach the airport.
The result is ongoing chaos around Hamid Karzai International Airport, where thousands of desperate people are seeking safety.
Biden has fueled the ire of military veterans by refusing to extend the evacuation beyond Aug. 31. They say he abandons people who risk their lives to help the US
The grizzled veterans who led the informal rescue expressed disbelief at the White House’s claims that the operation was a success and that Afghans could safely pass through checkpoints and the crowd of thousands of people to reach the airport.
As someone put it, it’s like wading through a 400-foot Metallica mosh pit with five toddlers.
Expats and Afghans exchange advice on WhatsApp groups, keep others informed about the location of Taliban checkpoints or promising leads on flights.
Charities are working with the US military to get charter flights to Kabul, also reportedly organized by former Secretary of State Clinton.
And convention bureaus are handling hundreds of requests for help and are working with the Pentagon and the State Department to reach people on the ground.
“We are working with both convention bureaus and networks on the ground in Kabul to facilitate the movement and coordinate access to HKIA, filling the gaps left by the State Department,” said a spokesman for Rep. Mike Waltz, the first former green beret to be elected. to the congress.
Private military contractors offer their services to those who have the money to pay, such as media organizations or private companies.
Prince, who founded Blackwater, said he could get people to the airport and on the plane for $6,500 per person — more if people were locked in their homes.
When the details were published by the Wall Street Journal, it led to accusations of profiteering.
But military experts said it was all just part of the struggle to get people out of a war zone.
“Erik Prince is the press’s favorite punching bag,” said Bill Roggio, an Army veteran and editor of the Long War Journal.
‘He makes every effort to get people out of the country and takes great risks in the process.’
US soldiers stand guard at the airport tower at an evacuation control checkpoint in Kabul. The Taliban regained control of the country 10 days ago as US troops prepared to leave
Taliban fighters search a vehicle at a checkpoint in Kabul. People trying to escape have to run through checkpoints to get to the airport
The Taliban recaptured Kabul last weekend without a fight and are now forming a new government
Instead, he said veterans were furious with the Biden government for potentially leaving thousands of Afghan translators, soldiers and other personnel behind by sticking to the August 31 deadline.
And he mocked the White House, claiming that anyone who had to get out could still make it to the airport.
“The facts speak for themselves. This government has made the operation a success,” he said, “but we know what we see.
‘We hear story after story of individuals having trouble getting to the airport
‘I know families who have had to make several trips. Luckily they got out, but only after putting their family lives – we’re talking about young children – in jeopardy.”
Parker said work would continue well past August 31, with rescues and support for the evacuees if they arrive in a foreign country.
“The magnitude of the effort that will be required for the people coming out will be enormous,” he said.
‘Look at the history, people came from Vietnam for twenty years.
“We’re going to have a huge lift in which we will have to support the people who have come out and the people who are still trying to get out.”