US veterans shepherd hundreds of endangered Afghans out of country

An informal group of military and intelligence veterans, aid workers and State Dept. officials saved more than 700 people threatened by the Taliban.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

A group of all-volunteer U.S. personnel in Afghanistan have taken upon themselves the daring and critical mission of shepherding endangered Afghans through a gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints to the Kabul airport and its waiting airplanes.

First reported by ABC News, the group is said to have brought more than 700 Afghan special operators, assets and enablers and their families to the relative safety of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, still controlled by the U.S.

“Dozens of high-risk individuals, families with small children, orphans, and pregnant women, were secretly moved through the streets of Kabul throughout the night and up to just seconds before ISIS detonated a bomb into the huddled mass of Afghans seeking safety and freedom,” Army Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret commander who led the private rescue effort, told ABC News.

The impromptu mission began on Aug. 15 to evacuate an Afghan commando who served with Mann along with his family. The Taliban was intent on tracking down this Afghan and had been sending him chilling death threats. But the informal operation quickly expanded.

How did this informal group of military and intelligence veterans, aid workers and State Dept. officials manage to pull it off?

“With the uniformed U.S. military unable to venture outside the airport’s perimeter to collect Americans and Afghans who’ve sought U.S. protection for their past joint service, they instead provided overwatch and awaited coordinated movements by an informal Pineapple Express ground team that included ‘conductors’ led by former Green Beret Capt. Zac Lois, known as the underground railroad’s ‘engineer,'” ABC News reported.

“The Afghan operators, assets, interpreters and their families were known as ‘passengers” and they were being guided remotely by ‘shepherds,’ who are, in most cases their loyal former U.S. special operations forces and CIA comrades and commanders, according to chat room communications viewed by ABC News.

For safety, the Afghans were furtively ushered to the airport alone or in pairs. Upon reaching a certain soldier identified by his red sunglasses, the Afghans would wave their cellphones displaying a graphic of yellow pineapples in a pink field.

Since news got out, the password has changed.

“This Herculean effort couldn’t have been done without the unofficial heroes inside the airfield who defied their orders to not help beyond the airport perimeter, by wading into sewage canals and pulling in these targeted people who were flashing pineapples on their phones,” Mann said.

Jason Redman, a former Navy SEAL and Purple Heart recipient who helped guide Afghans he knew to safety, vented to ABC his frustration “that our own government didn’t do this. We did what we should do, as Americans.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that the U.S. would continue evacuating Americans and endangered Afghans well into September.

“August 31st is not a cliff. After August 31st, we believe that we have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens, legal permanent residents and the Afghan allies who have travel documentation to come to the United States,” Sullivan said. “We will use that leverage to the maximum extent and we will work with the rest of the international community to make sure the Taliban does not falter on these commitments.”