No friend left behind: US special forces heroes stay on in Afghanistan to help
'Task Force Pineapple' has rescued 700-750 locals from Afghanistan while another ex-British soldier plans to rescue some 400 more through land routes
A secret 'underground railroad' formed by a coalition of retired and active duty veterans is now attempting to rescue Afghan commandos and others stuck outside Kabul airport. Their mission will reportedly continue after President Joe Biden's military withdrawal of August 31, while a former British soldier Ben Slater, who, while stranded in Kabul, plans on evacuating 400 women across Taliban-controlled borders.
News of the veterans' underground mission was shared by Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mannin an exclusive chat with Daily Mail. Dubbed 'Task Force Pineapple', the mission is being spearheaded by him and two other Green Berets who have succeeded in moving Afghan locals including interpreters, families, children, and pregnant women so far.
News of these evacuation attempts comes after it was reported that the last US military flight left Kabul on the afternoon of Monday, August 30. This brought the total number of people rescued by the government to 116,700, ever since the Taliban took over the country weeks ago. Amidst ample flak on POTUS Biden, his vice president Kamala Harris, and the Democratic White House Administration, Mann assures his team will do what they can to evacuate people.
"Now we're pivoting into, how do we move them out of the country unconventionally, without the airfield? That's a little harder but we're still gonna do it. We're not going anywhere. We're going to stay on it until either the government comes in and responsibly takes it away from us and we feel confident that they're going to do it, or we get them out," Mann told Daily Mail. "We will use the same relationships we've been using to move people into safety and out of harm's way and then to freedom outside the borders. We will continue to use the shepherd concept. This isn't over and we aren't stopping until we have our people out," he added.
A network of veterans and volunteers are reportedly using an encrypted chat to help people pass through "breaches in the perimeter." Mann told the outlet that Task Force Pineapple has already rescued 700 to 750 people within days, including "Afghan commandos [...] interpreters and their family, small children, several women that were nine months pregnant. We moved them from sewage canals and through checkpoints where they were beaten profusely. And we just guided them as best we could.'
Mann and other veterans involved in the undercover mission worked as "shepherds", remotely from outside Afghanistan. "So the shepherd, provide the craft, they -- we have the situational awareness with a lot of open source intelligence capabilities that we can look at, you know, we can we can see things and share things and, and then we became the eyes and ears of the different blocks that we were managing," he explained, insisting that: "These are not active duty people. These are men who have spent most of their lives in combat, they have seen severe, severe combat, they left that world thinking they were done with it. And they volunteered to come back in. They haven't slept, they shuttered their businesses, They called in sick."
People taken to the airport under Mann's team reportedly flashed an image of a pineapple on their phones - a sign that they have been vetted and rescued by the team and are good to go. An unnamed soldier stationed within the airport has also been working with the team, the vet revealed. "So then our shepherds moved them in a couple at a time, and they were wading through this waist deep sewage with their children, and so many of them had been out there for days." The airport soldier reportedly "jumped into the water with them and started helping them up the bank and pulling them up, pull them up to the other side," rescuing 500 people on one particular day alone.
Mann also recalled 'shepherds' working with their Afghan counterparts often heard cries and gunshots in the background, adding that despite their efforts not everybody made it through. "I would love to tell you that it all worked out. But we lost people. I mean, there were -- there were children that were trampled. There were, you know, women that went into labor, there were people beaten to death."
British soldiers who had seen Mann talk about his undercover team's frantic efforts with the pineapple image days earlier, also rescued people who reportedly frantically waved the pineapple image on their phones. They "saw the pineapples and started pulling them out, because they had seen it on BBC," Mann said. Meanwhile, former British soldier Salter, who's still stranded in Kabul, decided to formulate his own plan to rescue hundreds after being reportedly left disappointed by government officials.
Slater, who used to serve in the Royal Military Police, now runs a business in Kabul called Nomad Concepts Group, he told The Telegraph. After Foreign Office allegedly failed to secure visas for the evacuation of himself and his 50 staff that included mostly Afghan women, Slater is left with no choice but to leave by land across Taliban-controlled borders, making it a near impossible task. Slater, however, has still shared his plans with UK Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, in the hopes that they will aide his evacuation efforts.
Slater told The Telegraph: "It's going to be a long trip, and I am hoping on the other end that the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] have got our visas sorted, or at least have spoken to the foreign affairs ministry in our destination country to allow access for our vulnerable staff." Revealing how he was "massively let down" by the UK Government, Slater spilled: "I was given one hour's notice to send in my people's names, the vehicles and stuff like that. And that seemed a little bit like that was set up for me to miss the deadline. But we did it, and then it went sort of quiet, and then there was a little bit of 'oh, you can't come because you can't get through the Taliban checkpoint'."
Slater was then allegedly transferred to an automated call centre on Friday and was put "back at zero," he told the publication. That's what prompted him to figure out his own evacuation process, even though he worries the Taliban won't stick by their proclamations of letting people leave by land peacefully. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also reportedly refused to comment on Slater's case, claiming they don't comment on individual cases. They however assured in a statement that, "Our staff are working tirelessly to facilitate the swift evacuation of British nationals, Afghan staff and others at risk. The scale of the evacuation effort is huge and we have helped nearly 15,000 people leave Afghanistan since the evacuation began. We continue to put pressure on the Taliban to allow safe passage out of Afghanistan for those who want to leave."