…from Defense One.…
Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley hosted the first group meeting shortly after the last U.S. troops departed. He was joined by a State Department staff member who had just departed Hamid Karzai International Airport as part of the evacuation team, and Defense Department staff.
Those meetings are still going on and will continue as the groups keep raising money and pooling information and resources to get Afghans out, the veterans groups and State Department officials said. Since Aug. 31, the couple thousand Afghans who have gotten out have done so via land routes and in a few cases, through chartered flights. Their departures are aided by the volunteer groups, many of whom have now coalesced under the #AfghanEvac coalition.
The groups will likely never be reimbursed for the millions of dollars they have raised and spent on flights to get Afghans evacuated, nor are they asking for that repayment, said the veteran, a member of the coalition.
But at least one Congressional staffer thinks the groups should be repaid.
“It would make sense for State to do [repay the groups] and would be right, since they are doing State’s job for them,” the staffer said on the condition of anonymity.
The larger coalition group holds planning calls three times a week to share what’s working and what’s not. It’s composed of scores of those original Afghanistan rescue veterans organizations, including Task Force Pineapple,Digital Dunkirk, Allied Airlift 21 and others who fought to get their interpreters and commandos inside HKIA.
Then a smaller group of those veterans meet twice a week with State and Defense Department staff to share what they’re hearing and get help working departure issues such as hunting down required paperwork, advising on the status of border crossings over land, getting charter flight landing rights and getting aid.
One of the first tasks the group took on was getting everyone to adopt the same data format. For weeks, thousands of passport photos, Excel lists of names, and photocopies of employment records had been shuttled across the internet as each individual rescue organization tried to get their people through the gate. Now those names are centralized and secured at HumanRightsFirst.org.
But other obstacles remain. Outgoing flights are limited to daylight hours because of a lack of civic infrastructure at HKIA. No one can be cleared to board unless they can get past Taliban security checkpoints. Nor can a plane depart until all passengers are matched to the manifest, and permission to land has been secured, with State assistance, from a receiving country, two of the veterans said.
“No one person is saving anybody,” the Navy veteran said. “This is a group effort all the way through.”….