US contractor details desperate measures to get Afghan allies out

Many Afghans who worked with the U.S. government are trapped in Afghanistan.

August 25, 2021, 4:57 PM

A U.S. military contractor is putting his own time and money into help former Afghan colleagues escape Afghanistan now that the Taliban has taken power.

The veteran, who asked ABC News not reveal his name or location because he could be targeted in his work overseas, said some Afghan soldiers “borrowed” Afghan air force aircraft to get out of the country.

With less than a week before the Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations, the contractor told ABC News’ daily podcast “Start Here” that it may take days for Afghan nationals to get to the airport with Taliban checkpoints stopping them from leaving the country -- and that he's joined a growing network of former U.S. military personnel trying to help their former colleagues.

“Obviously, the administration's going to do what they say they see fit, most of us try to stay very apolitical. But to be fair, I mean, you don't leave people behind,” he said. “The fact that this administration is willing to do that, I mean, Jesus, God save us all.”

U.S. evacuations have ramped up in recent days, and in total the U.S. has evacuated approximately 83,000 people since the effort began on Aug. 14, the White House said Wednesday.

PHOTO: A woman carries a child as passengers board a plane to evacuate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24, 2021.
A woman carries a child as passengers board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24, 2021.
Us Air Force via Reuters

A Pentagon official said planes departed the Kabul airport every 39 minutes on Tuesday. As next week's deadline looms, the official also told reporters that "the most senior commanders on the ground are out and discussing with the Taliban leaders that are manning these checkpoints exactly what the documentation needs to look like" for more people to get through.

The official also said Wednesday that six flights are scheduled to bring about 1,800 vulnerable Afghans from Germany to the U.S., and 13 flights will bring about 2,000 vulnerable Afghans to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

The contractor who spoke to ABC News said he worked in mission qualification training for a helicopter program in Afghanistan, training Afghans to carry out missions on their own. By the time the country fell to the government on Aug. 14, he says his former colleagues were told to stand down to avoid bloodshed. Suddenly they found themselves trapped.

“Some of my coworkers… started telling them, ‘Hey, you know, it's time to get out… It's time to leave.’ And so a lot of the aircraft went to Uzbekistan,” he said. “My particular program only had me under 50 aircrafts. And at that point, these guys just started taking it upon themselves to rescue their families and flee the country.”

The contractor said he and his colleagues are calling it “borrowing.” Others, he said, didn't have aircraft at their disposal.

“Some of them went over ground through Iran, Pakistan and a few other places… They're turning up in a bunch of random countries. The rest are sitting there hunkering down in, wherever they were, mostly Kabul,” he said.

Now, the contractor said he is headed to Istanbul to help Afghans who escaped there.

“I plan on… trying to help some of these guys out with my own personal money and just try to make sure they have a hotel and some food in their bellies,” he said.

The contractor said the updated deadline has led to a feeling of resignation among many Afghans, who are now effectively “writing goodbye letters.”

He says some people are trapped in Kabul because they can’t produce a letter from the U.S. Even if paperwork is produced, a specific letterhead is required for a special immigrant visa.

“A lot of them went through flight school, through the U.S. Army Flight School at Fort Rucker, Alabama,” he explained. “However, you know, their visas are all expired because it's been a year, year and a half since the last time they were in the States. So now these guys are trying to... verify their service to the Afghan government. However, the Afghan government doesn't exist anymore.”

This report was featured in the Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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