This is the second part of a Fox News Digital Originals series about the fall of Kabul and the hectic and heroic 96-hour effort to evacuate Afghans fearing retribution from the Taliban. Part 1
Two veterans groups working to evacuate a few Afghans from Kabul teamed up to help more than 450 people flee Afghanistan.
The ad hoc squads, armed with cellphones and laptops, came together for one last mission to honor a promise to protect the Afghan allies who protected them during the 20-year war on terror.
“We started referring to it as like a digital Dunkirk,” Joe Saboe, a former Army captain who used his expertise in the digital space to create a vast volunteer network dubbed “Team America,” told Fox News.
Saboe amassed a group of nearly 200 volunteers and established a 24/7 virtual operation center during the weekslong evacuation.
HOW KABUL BECAME AN EVACUATION BOTTLENECK AND A PRIME TERROR TARGET: THE LAST 96
“I think we very quickly realized, as a result of our actions those first few days, Aug. 13, 14 and even 15, that our government didn’t have a real plan, and most especially didn’t even have communication with a lot of the families that were trying to get out, including American citizens, lawful permanent residents and especially SIVs (Special Immigration Visas),” Saboe told Fox News. “I think that’s when we realized, gosh, we might need a lot of people trying to support this effort.”
His team was guided by a group of senior military veterans known as Task Force Dunkirk, or as Saboe calls them, “the graybeards.”
“Task Force Dunkirk was kind of the command element,” Russell Worth Parker, a retired U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel, told Fox News.
“We were a bunch of older guys with a lot of connections and a lot of numbers in our phones who could call and break down barriers,” he continued. “The Team America folks are younger, faster, more nimble and vastly more knowledgeable about how to use social media and use the digital space to good effect.”
Parker, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said his 20-hour days working the phones was like a deployment.
“Things were so chaotic,” he told Fox News. “People say all the time, ‘We were building the airplane in flight.’ We were designing, envisioning, buying the parts, welding, there was no airplane to build in flight. And we just kind of took off and people started throwing parts up to us.”
In Florida, a retired Green Beret commander, Scott Mann, formed another group: Task Force Pineapple.
“It all started with a couple of us who came together to try and save one Afghan commando named Nesam,” the former lieutenant colonel told Fox News.
Leading a small group of veterans, Mann patched together connections in Kabul and at the Hamid Karzai International Airport to help Nesam and his family escape.
Lt. Col. Scott Mann (Ret.) with Nesam (Courtesy: Task Force Pineapple)
“We needed to be his eyes and ears, we needed to be his shepherd,” Mann said. “He was the one taking all the risks, but we were the ones that can be his eyes and ears and see around corners, and that’s really what happened.”
After evacuating Nesam and his family, Mann and his team started working with Team America, Task Force Dunkirk and others to save more Afghan allies.
“What we did was, you know, that team of teams thing, it makes a lot of sense, we recognized that what we needed to do was to make as many connections, as many relevant connections as we could remotely with the different components that would help these at-risk Afghans move through the various challenges along the way,” Mann told Fox News.
Mann clarified that his team was never on the ground in Afghanistan.
“There’s a lot of stuff out there that we didn’t do that’s been assigned to what we did,” he told Fox News. “And I want to clarify, we were never on the ground. We never parachuted in or helicoptered in or any of that.”
Although American troops have left Afghanistan, Saboe, Parker and Mann all said the mission is not over.
After the evacuation, Team America started a nonprofit organization to continue working with Afghan families.
“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” said Parker, whose task force will continue to advise Team America. “Leverage our experience and our connections and knowledge base to support their energy and focus and ability to move mountains with the power of the internet.”