Revealed: U.S. Special Ops vets snuck into Kabul, secretly helped evacuate more than 600 Afghans

AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

If this had happened when I was a kid, the Stallone vehicle about it would already be in production this morning.

He’s too old now so it’ll end up as a Dwayne Johnson summer blockbuster instead. Possibly co-starring John Cena.

Although Cena might not want to participate in a feelgood movie about American honor and valor, as that’s apt to hurt his all-important marketability in China.

ABC’s scoop is one of those stories to which no excerpt can do justice, so read it all. It never turns dull, needless to say. The effort, dubbed “Task Force Pineapple,” apparently came together on August 15 when a group of vets mobilized to rescue an Afghan commando who had served with Army Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a Green Beret. The Taliban had already identified the commando and were texting death threats to him. If they found him before Mann and his team did, he was dead. The task force decided to try to get him out, putting themselves in harm’s way and tapping contacts in the field for assistance.

Quickly the effort turned into the Kabul equivalent of the Underground Railroad, with an estimated 630 Afghan vets and their families eventually delivered safely to the airport. “That is an astounding number for an organization that was only assembled days before the start of operations and most of its members had never met each other in person,” said another former Green Beret, Zac Lois, who served acted as “engineer” for the railroad. It’s a comfort to know in the middle of this still-unfolding national humiliation that some still believe in “no man left behind.”

The screenplay writes itself:

The effort since [the Afghan commando] was saved in a harrowing effort, along with his family of six, reached a crescendo this week with dozens of covert movements coordinated virtually on Wednesday by more than 50 people in an encrypted chat room, which Mann described as a night full of dramatic scenes rivaling a “Jason Bourne” thriller unfolding every 10 minutes…

There was one engineer, a few conductors, as well as people who were performing intelligence-gathering duties. The intelligence was pooled in the encrypted chat group in real-time and included guiding people on maps to GPS pin drops at rally points for them to stage in the shadows and in hiding until summoned by a conductor wearing a green chem light, ABC News observed in the encrypted chat.

Once summoned, passengers would hold up their smartphones with a graphic of yellow pineapples on a pink field…

Many of the Afghans arrived near Abbey Gate and waded through a sewage-choked canal toward a U.S. soldier wearing red sunglasses to identify himself. They waved their phones with the pineapples and were scooped up and brought inside the wire to safety. Others were brought in by an Army Ranger wearing a modified American flag patch with the Ranger Regiment emblem, sources told ABC News.

Around 130 Afghans were safely delivered to the airport during the first 10 days of the operation, but with the clock ticking and U.S. officials making clear that civilian evacuations were apt to end this weekend, they somehow managed to get 500 Afghan assets and the families to the airport on Wednesday night alone. During one suspenseful moment that evening local cell-phone service dropped out, making coordination in the field impossible. Had the Taliban disrupted communications, spoiling the effort and leaving the team exposed?

No, it turned out. The U.S. military had temporarily jammed service for fear of an IED outside the gate. Service was restored within an hour and the mission proceeded.

One former SEAL who participated complained to ABC “that our own government didn’t do this. We did what we should do, as Americans.” Another retired SEAL said of an Afghan veteran who refused to abandon his family and eventually led them all to safety, “Leaving a man behind is not in our SEAL ethos. Many Afghans have a stronger vision of our democratic values than many Americans do.” Meanwhile, at the White House:

At a White House already badly shaken by events, [yesterday’s bombing] was a new shock. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this level of sadness and horror,” one official said on Thursday. The White House had received intelligence on Wednesday that a coordinated, multipronged attack at the airport by ISIS-K could be coming — and struggled unsuccessfully to avert it…

The United States has raced to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies to meet that [August 31] deadline, and the airlift has flown more than 100,000 people to safety. But the rescue effort, impressive as it has been, has left behind perhaps a thousand Americans and many times more Afghans.

For the tens of thousands of Afghans who have departed from Kabul, and the nations to which they are fleeing, severe problems remain. Resettlement in the United States will be difficult for Afghans who are unvaccinated and, for many Americans, unwelcome. Many of those who rushed aboard emergency evacuation flights lack necessary documents. And the Afghans trekking out across borders could cause serious security and humanitarian problems for nearby countries such as Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran.

I haven’t had a chance to listen yet but Mann has his own podcast and apparently discussed the operation to evacuate the Afghan commando who inspired the mission a few days ago:

He’s also launched a GoFundMe to benefit No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that aims to resettle Afghans who helped the U.S. military during our time in Afghanistan. Here he is pitching it earlier this week. Seems like the only flaw in his planning for the evacuation effort was the name: Task Force Pineapple took to calling itself the “Pineapple Express,” which will complicate things when the movie is made. But it will be made.