Friday, September 3, 2021

Afghanistan: An update on those boots on the ground


A couple of days ago I described "private" efforts by former US Special Forces personnel and others to rescue their former colleagues, people they'd trained and trusted, out of Afghanistan with their families before the Taliban could wreak revenge.  Obviously, I couldn't provide many details, because this sort of work is highly sensitive, and any exposure of the way things are working might invite lethal retaliation.

However, a few news reports are surfacing that provide more details of what's being done.  I can't speak to the accuracy of all of them, but I thought you might be interested to read them for yourself.

First, "The Story Of The Mysterious White 727 That Appeared In Kabul After The Bombing Of Abbey Gate".

In the panopticon that is today's internet age, peculiarities stand out. One such surprise was seeing a gleaming-white, but quite geriatric 727-200 appear on Kabul's ragged skyline, landing at the under siege airport amongst the constant flow of C-17s, A400Ms, C-130s, a few modern airliners, and other usual suspects.

. . .

It turns out that Niel Steyl, the Captain of a four-decade-old 727-200 that flies for Safe Air Company, an airline and charter outfit based in Kenya, answered an emergency call from the U.S. State Department for immediate airlift assistance after a complex terrorist attack, which started with a suicide bombing, killed 13 U.S. troops, as well as at least 170 Afghans, on August 26th. 

At the time, Steyl, his crew, and their 727, which carries the Kenyan registration number 5Y-IRE and is aptly nicknamed Irene, were forward based out of neighboring Kulob, Tajikistan.

. . .

Their cargo for the dangerous sortie would be hundreds of ex-Afghan special operations forces that were being lodged in a warehouse within the confines of the airport. These troops had worked with the Americans for years and they would be top Taliban targets, but finding room on military airlifters leaving the country became a huge challenge. Hence the mercy flights by Irene.

It only took just 40 minutes to load up 308 people onto the cargo-configured 727, which would normally carry between a half and a third of that load during the type's career as an airliner.

There's more at the link.  It's an interesting read.  (I told you at least one former South African pilot was involved, didn't I?  I've since learned he's not the only one.)

Next, the Pineapple Express is still going strong.

The Pineapple Express, a network of special operations veterans and contacts on the ground who came together to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies, is moving to the next phase of their operations — getting the hundreds of Americans left behind in Afghanistan to safety.

“We’re having to move from what was a very network-centric starfish kind of thing to way more of a deliberate recovery. That focuses on two things, moving people to safety, getting them immediately out of harm’s way from retribution and targeting and then ultimately some of them to freedom,” said Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret who co-founded the Pineapple Express.

“Categorically, we’re looking at American citizens that are still a couple of hundred, at least, that are still in country,” he said in an interview with Breitbart News on Tuesday.

He said they are also looking to aid Afghan partner forces, at-risk Afghans, innovators in democracy and the arts, women, prosecutors, judges, and young girls who have participated in non-profit art endeavors.

“Nobody else is coming,” he said.

Mann did not detail exactly what those plans were, but said he and his teammates would rely on networks in place for “years and years.”

“Green Berets are good at working by, with, and through indigenous populations and cultures, and we don’t have to be on the ground to get things done, you know, and, and that’s, that’s the bottom line,” he said.

The Pineapple Express helped to get about 700 Americans and Afghans inside the Kabul airport in three days, using a “shepherd concept.” Mann said former special operators used their contacts in and outside of Afghanistan to get people inside.

Again, more at the link.  Go read about their "encrypted chat room" and how everything was coordinated online.  (I understand those 700-odd evacuees were the ones who flew out on that old 727.)

Finally, a group calling themselves Ark Salus is also stepping up to the plate.

Peterson is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant and a board member with Ark Salus, “a group of private American citizens and former U.S. Special Operations advisors with unique expertise,” driven by a “moral obligation to assist and protect the Afghans who assisted and protected” them during the War in Afghanistan.

“Myself and two others developed it about three weeks ago prior to the fall of Kabul,” Peterson said, explaining the origins of the Ark Salus organization.

“Our goal was to evacuate the families of the commandos,” Peterson continued, “so the commandos could stay and fight and stand for Kabul.” Unfortunately, Kabul fell to the Taliban “a lot quicker than anticipated,” so the mission of the organization changed from getting the families of the commandos to safety to getting both the commandos and their families to safety.

. . .

Peterson then explained the experience he and his colleague Jariko Denman experienced when they arrived in Afghanistan during the final weeks of the U.S. withdrawal ... “Unfortunately, everything was destroyed,” Peterson said. “It was absolute destruction. I’ve done so many things in my life and been so many different places. It just took me, it took my breath away, to be honest with you.”

. . .

According to Peterson, his team has been able to rescue around 200 to 300 people, all people who are exposed and on the Taliban’s enemy list.

“All of my commandos, all my commandos and all my pilots and flight engineers. That’s what I’m doing this for, was for those guys specifically, and then it just kind of turned into a massive evacuation of anybody that we could grab,” Peterson said.

Asked whether an end is in sight for this mission, Peterson said that they “will keep going as long as we can for as many as we can.”

“There’s still 500 American citizens in Kabul right now. American citizens that cannot get out and our government left them behind. Now, multiply that with all of the Afghans that helped us for the last 20 years that fought side-by-side with me,” Peterson explained. “Saved my life numerous times, countless times, and I owe them this and I’m talking to them daily, hourly, by the minute, from their command structure, all the way down to their lowest guy, trying to come for them.”

“They know that death is coming for them,” Peterson added. “They know it’s the very next day, or the hour. They know their children, their wives are going to be burned alive.”

More at the link.

These aren't the only groups doing similar work in Afghanistan.  I'm aware of at least three more - but for obvious reasons, since their information is not in the public domain, I can't talk about them in any detail.  (I will note, in passing, that a large number of Afghan Air Force aircraft were flown out by escaping pilots and their families to air bases in neighboring countries, where they've been impounded.  However, the count of aircraft impounded appears to be shrinking . . . at least four Afghan Mil Mi-17 helicopters that were around last week aren't around today.  [For a photograph, see here.]  No prizes for guessing where those missing "borrowed" aircraft are, or what they're doing.  Afghan crews are trained to fly and maintain them, and spares are lying around all over the country, which makes them a logical choice over the more advanced American-supplied UH-60's.  They'll be returned [so I'm told] when they're no longer needed.  A handful of hundred-dollar bills can be a useful lubricant, in certain situations . . . )

I've been informed that in the past five days, since US forces abandoned Kabul Airport, at least 1,000 individuals have been assisted to reach and cross the borders of various "Stans" surrounding Afghanistan, to temporary safety and security.  At least as many again are en route to those borders, with thousands more to be gathered up if and when possible.  There have been a number of short, sharp firefights with Taliban patrols in the process.  It's not just a jaunt in the wilderness;  it's a lethally dangerous exfiltration exercise.  So far, so good for most of them.

Measures are being taken to find long-term homes for the evacuees in other countries.  One in particular, in the Persian Gulf area, has a long tradition of hiring mercenaries for its armed forces, and is apparently very interested in former Afghan Special Forces troops who come "guaranteed", for want of a better word, by former US Special Forces personnel with whom they've trained in the past.  One might call it a match made in heaven, if one were fanciful . . . which, of course, I'm not.  Perish the thought!

All those I know who are involved have voiced a similar warning:  there are many fraudsters trying to "fund-raise" for similar efforts who are doing nothing at all to help.  They cited a number of examples, including more than one group that claimed to have rescued the crated dogs seen in news photographs at Kabul Airport, and were asking for funds to get them out of the country.  Needless to say, those claims were false.  The groups with whom I have personal contact are funding their own operations through donations from some rather wealthy individuals, plus a certain lack of scruple in "liberating" from the Taliban dollars, gold jewelry and other valuables left behind by Afghan warlords and others as they fled.  I'm glad it's being put to what I consider good use.



Murder Kitten said...

You know of any way donations can be sent to the legit groups?

Steve Sky said...

I second that request. Could we donate to you, and have it passed on?

Stuart said...

I sure am glad we went to the trouble to rescue the hundreds of Afghan "special operations" forces that threw down their weapons and ran at the first opportunity. I sure hope we don't bring those worthies here.

Peter said...

@Murder Kitten & Steve Sky: I'm working on that. Watch this blog on Monday for potential developments.

@Stuart: You don't get it. The specops Afghans did NOT "throw down their weapons and run at the first opportunity". They fought, and when they did, most of them died. They bought time with their bodies to get their families away, to seek safety with their comrades in arms. One day, perhaps, that tale may be told in more detail.

Furthermore, remember that the USA cut off support (including "contractor" support) a couple of months ago. Just look at the serviceability ratings for Afghan Air Force planes (you'll find them if you look for them). Availability slumped, largely because they ran out of spare parts and the more effective "smart" (i.e. guided) weapons. Artillery ammo was also restricted. I understand that during the last three weeks or so, they had basically small arms ammo with which to fight, plus a few guided weapons that were kept under lock and key by those who controlled access. (Some of the latter were "killed by enemy fire" in last-ditch battles, so that the Specops guys could get the keys to the bunkers and get hold of what was available. Most of it is now in the hands of those convoying people out of there, or in the Panjshir Valley, where it's giving the Taliban a hard time.)

There are so many stories to be told . . . but I don't think I'll ever be allowed to tell them. We'll see.

Larry said...

Basically the same thing we did to South Vietnam in 1975. We cut them off at the knees and of course they collapsed. Some ARVN units did only put up a token fight. Others fought tenaciously and well, and died in place.

Rick said...

We have all seen the video featuring the very large sum of uncirculated U.S. $100 bills. We saw how what it appears to be the Taliban rummaging through said dollar bills. What is the probability that those bills were left for the purpose of 'lubrication' in certain conditions? Conditions such as, 'For diplomatic reasons, U.S. State cannot participate in evac ops. But we know there will be private non-govs operating mercy missions. They will need large stacks of $100 dollar bills.'

Except the Taliban go to them first. And used them as props in a propaganda video.

Everything is fluid. State actors are looking for deniability (CYA). Given the conditions I think 'anything is possible'. Yet I asked about probability.

Sam said...

What Peter said.

Remember too, the Afghans lost more men every year than the U.S. did during the entire 20 years.

Jimmy said...

GoRuck (and others) are fundraising for TF Pineapple.

Sam said...

From the Victory Girls (sourced from the UK Daily Mail, for what that's worth):

Afghan National Resistance Fends Off Taliban

"Joe Biden may have given up Afghanistan to the whims of the Taliban, but one group refuses to give in. The National Resistance Front, holed up in the Panjshir Valley, is continuing the fight under the leadership of Amrullah Saleh. Saleh is the former Vice President of Afghanistan, and he doesn’t have kind words for Joe Biden.

"Unlike President Ashraf Ghani, who took the money and fled to United Arab Emirates, Saleh instead went to the Panjshir Valley, a geographic stronghold, as it’s a remote valley with mountains surrounding it. From the valley, Saleh issued a dispatch in which he showed his anger at the West — America, in particular."