Veteran group says it moved 630 Afghans to Kabul airport: Report
The group says it conducted an unofficial mission to evacuate members of the Afghan special forces and their families.
An all-volunteer group of American military veterans, aid workers and intelligence officials has shepherded more than 630 vulnerable Afghans to Kabul international airport as part of an unofficial operation conducted with the United States military and the US embassy, the group has told a US broadcaster.
The group – which dubbed itself “Task Force Pineapple” – has sought to transport members of the Afghan special forces and other Afghans who aided the US government in the country to the airport since Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, according to ABC news.
In recent days, amid reports the Taliban was increasingly preventing Afghans eligible for special visas from reaching the airport, the group has increased its efforts, bringing more than 500 Afghans within the security perimeter of the US-controlled airport since Wednesday.
“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,” Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret commander who led the private rescue effort, told ABC News.
The US has said it has evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from Afghanistan, but monitors say there could be as many as 250,000 Afghans eligible for special US visas still in the country.
On Friday, the US resumed evacuations following Thursday’s twin bombings near the airport that killed nearly 100 Afghans and 13 members of the US military.
Task Force Pineapple told ABC News that some of its members had been wounded during the attack. The group said it was still determining if any Afghans they were transporting had been killed.
Wednesday’s operation – named the “Pineapple Express” – saw teams of US special forces fan out to collect small groups of Afghans to bring them to the airport, according to ABC news.
The teams coordinated and shared intelligence through an encrypted chat.
The Afghans they were extracting, who they called “passengers”, would show an image of yellow pineapples with a pink background on their smartphones to confirm their identities.
Those rescued included Afghans who had helped US special forces target Taliban leadership over the last 20 years, making them high-value targets for the group.
“I have been involved in some of the most incredible missions and operations that a special forces guy could be a part of, and I have never been a part of anything more incredible than this,” Major Jim Gant, a retired Green Beret, told ABC News.
“The bravery and courage and commitment of my brothers and sisters in the Pineapple community was greater than the US commitment on the battlefield.”