After days of frustration, an informal group of service members and veterans, who are now calling themselves “Team America,” are seeing their hard work on behalf of Afghan allies paying off.
Working around the clock in the U.S, and Kabul, Team America finally received some good news about their efforts. After days of highlighting cases to the U.S. government and helping evacuees navigate a series of Taliban and American checkpoints, Team America says some evacuees they supported had flown to safety aboard an Air Force C-17 cargo jet.
“We’ve got people on C-17s already, and we have a lot more people. We have 128 people on our list now, Joe Saboe, a former Army infantry officer and unofficial spokesman for Team America, told Military Times.
A critical development occurred overnight when order was restored at Hamid Karzai International Airport allowing evacuation flights to resume. According to Saboe, the chaos prevented evacuees from being admitted to the airfield at all.
“The big change right now is that the airfield is now very orderly, and people are being processed. Neither one of those things were to before,” said Saboe, adding that American citizens, U.S. Green Card holders, and those with an approved visa can clear American checkpoints.
“We were getting a lot of people through the North Gate and the abbey gate, which is on the southeast side of the airport,” said Saboe. “Those two gates are the ones that are letting people in.”
The information that Saboe and the rest of Team America generate comes from a network of informal and personal contacts that the group has both inside the U.S. government and individuals attempting to flee Kabul. However, not all the information coming out of Kabul paints a rosy picture of events on the ground. According to Saboe, it also comes with news that the Taliban is hunting down U.S. allies as they attempt to make their way out of the country.
“There are two Taliban checkpoints,” Saboe said. “They are searching for any sort of documents that link you to the government.”
Further, evacuees are reporting to Team America that the Taliban is also going door-to-door to search for high-level officials from the collapsed Afghan government.
Complicating this further is the system by which the U.S. State Department provides credentialing to those seeking a flight out. According to Saboe, DoS should notify evacuees through a phone call or an email when approved for a flight.
“But nobody, nobody’s getting any of that information. Nobody’s actually getting those calls or emails right now,” Saboe said.
Defense Department officials deferred comment to State. DoS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After a Military Times story about their efforts, Team America has seen the number of evacuees it is supporting nearly triple from around 50 to almost 130. The increased numbers also mean an increased workload. While Saboe and others fully embrace the challenge, Team America is asking for help managing their small part of the evacuation and locating any additional people who need to get out of Afghanistan.
If someone you know needs assistance getting out of Afghanistan, or you would like to help Team America, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.