For two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military fought for the freedom of a nation, created bonds of brotherhood between two countries, and made promises on the ground to our soldiers. But last August, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, 20 years of relationships were squandered in the blink of an eye.
The stark reality we learned a year ago is that, when it comes to Afghanistan, we can no longer look to our current leaders for help. Nobody’s coming. We’re on our own.
Veterans of the long War on Terror know this better than anyone. A recent survey conducted by the Veterans and Citizens Initiative found that 76% of American military veterans are angry about the withdrawal from Afghanistan; 73% feel betrayed; and 71% are having a hard time processing the end of the war. Our troops risked their lives and suffered immeasurable physical and moral injuries. What was it all for?
My fellow veterans and I felt this acutely last year when we launched a rescue mission to save our friend Sergeant First Class Nezammudin “Nezam” Nezami. An Afghan special forces soldier, Nezam trained at Fort Bragg, fought alongside us, and was wounded defending American freedom. And yet, when the time came for his paperwork to be processed, none of us could get the U.S. government to help.
We took it upon ourselves to work directly with the NATO military heroes in Kabul to get Nezam out, utilizing a Signal group chat populated by veterans, State Department officials, and a few media figures. Once we got Nezam safely through the wall in the Kabul airport, we realized we had created an “underground railroad” for more Afghans and their families to find safe passage. It required a treacherous journey through Taliban checkpoints, seething crowds, and rank open sewers where those seeking refuge would look for a chem-light or orange flag signal. Once located, they had to use the password or show an image of a “Pineapple,” to the Marine or soldier standing guard at the hidden entry point.
The Signal group chat supporting these efforts, now known as “Operation Pineapple Express,” grew to 150 individuals from all parts of the country. Together, we worked diligently to get as many people as we could to safety, but we knew we were on borrowed time, as everyone expected an IED to detonate somewhere amidst the chaos of Kabul airport. It did, killing 13 Americans and over 100 innocent Afghans. The bomb ended our official operations, but we continued to work the underground — and we do to this day.
While veterans and volunteers stepped up, the silence from American politicians, diplomats, and senior military leaders has been deafening. Not one senior leader resigned in protest over the embarrassment and human costs of what happened. Instead, these leaders passed off the risk to more junior active-duty members of their organizations and to the combat-fatigued Special Operations Forces veteran population. Operation Pineapple Express was just one of dozens of privately run operations where individuals stepped in to do the work that our military higher-ups and our government refused to do.
Today, more than a year later, the Kabul we left behind looks very different. The Taliban appears stronger than ever, and human rights have once again been ripped away from the Afghan people. The Taliban have reinstituted their draconian measures to keep girls out of school and women out of public professions. Mass graves of Tajik Men and targeted killings of former Afghan Commandos are the front-page headlines of human rights organizations. And as we saw with the recent drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, American enemies once again have a place of safety to plan future attacks.
Coming back from this failure will be immensely difficult, and we don’t seem to have the leadership in Washington to make a difference.
As we learned all too painfully in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Ukraine, we cannot kill our way to security. We cannot turn military decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of troops into political tools. America’s broken international promises represent a national security risk that cannot be understated. But perhaps an even greater consequence of those broken promises is the sense of betrayal and futility felt among our men and women in the service. Why did we fight? What did we fight for? These questions became a recurring callback with so many of my friends who risked their lives and sacrificed so much.
That’s why Operation Pineapple Express – like Dunkirk, Save Our Allies, and the many other volunteer efforts undertaken – was a huge uplift. It showed what people can do in spite of the mismanagement and political blundering of our leaders. The fortitude and loyalty our team members demonstrated to save our Afghan brothers and sisters – many of us not sleeping for days straight so we could save as many people as possible – embodies what makes America great. It’s not the
politicians. It’s not the military brass, either. It’s the everyday men and women who honored a promise and tried to save their fellow men and women when they needed help.
As we rue the anniversary of our tragic exit from Afghanistan, we must push past the partisan hackery and look beyond the egregious missteps of past administrations. We’re in the foxhole now, and help may not come. With veterans as our moral compass, we citizens must recognize that, at least for now, we only have each other to rely on.
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Scott Mann is a former U.S. Army Green Beret with tours all over the world including Colombia, Iraq, and multiple tours in Afghanistan. He is a warrior storyteller and the founder of Rooftop Leadership and the author of the instant New York Times Best-Seller, Operation Pineapple Express. He has since founded Operation Pineapple Express Relief, a 501c3 to help support the emergency needs of our Afghan Allies such as safe passage out of Afghanistan, plus unforeseen resettlement needs.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.