Episode 9: The veterans who helped Save Our Allies in Afghanistan
In August, as the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan and the U.S. scrambled to evacuate its allies and citizens from the country, back home veterans received phone calls, emails and texts from desperate Afghans pleading for help.
These veterans, many former members of the elite Special Operations Forces, organized efforts such as The Pineapple Express, Save Our Allies and others, helping to rescue tens of thousands of people from the country. On this episode of Military Matters, co-hosts Rod Rodriguez and Jack Murphy talk to two of the veterans who helped save these Afghan allies, and the issues that arose along the way with the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans.
As news reports came in on the worsening conditions in Kabul, former Marine Chad Robichaux, CEO of the Mighty Oaks Foundation, thought of his interpreter and friend, Aziz. He wanted to help Aziz and others like him get out of Afghanistan.
“I mean, this guy, like we're in the mountains of Afghanistan or in a Taliban-infested village, if it's in the middle of the night and I had to walk around a corner, he would never let me walk around that corner first; he was always going to go first and protect me and keep me safe,” Robichaux said. “And he's just an amazing human being. When I wasn't operating with him, I didn't go back on a base somewhere. I went to his home and I ate dinner with his family and played soccer with his kids.”
Robichaux put together a team of mostly former Special Operations members, including former infantry officer and CEO of Ranger Up, Nick Palmisciano. With help from the United Arab Emirates, which provided the team with an airfield, two C-17 aircraft and a joint operation center on their base in Abu Dhabi, Robichaux, his teammate Dan Stinson, Palmisciano, veteran Tim Kennedy and others headed to Hamad Karzai International Airport to begin their mission, dubbed Save Our Allies.
During the mission, the team cooperated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense, but there were challenges. Robichaux said the State Department, not the military, was the lead on the non-combatant evacuation.
“They held … the airport like an embassy and treated (it) like an embassy, meaning the military is now working for the State Department and they're security guards,” he said. “They can't leave to go help troops. They have to hold a static perimeter. And we were told that we held the airport and we were holding the airport. The truth is the United States was never in control of that airport. The Taliban was given the outer perimeter and anybody that knows military strategy knows whoever owns the outer perimeter owns the ground space.”
The Save Our Allies team evacuated 12,000 Afghan and U.S. citizens in 10 days. As some of the crew worked to get Afghans onto planes, others conducted a parallel mission to get people to the airport while avoiding the Taliban at all costs.
“They got chased a few times by the Taliban,” Palmisciano said. “They had to basically create ratlines past not only the Taliban, but past our own troops because they had to be undetected because the Taliban were watching everywhere. … One of the most effective rat lines that we had was literally through the sewer system.”
Next week, Military Matters takes a look at another Afghanistan evacuation operation run by veterans, The Pineapple Express.
You can find Military Matters on Twitter @stripesmmpod.
A transcript of the episode can be found here.
Go to www.stripes.com use promo code PODCAST and save 50% on your digital subscription.