Two months ago, the Taliban kidnapped Rambo, the code name for a commander in the Afghan National Army’s Special Operations Command, and seven other commandos, according to a report from The Federalist.
Video of the seven other commandos being executed was sent to members of Operation North Star, an all-volunteer organization working to rescue the thousands of Afghan allies left behind when U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan.
According to Ben Owen, a former infantryman, volunteers ”assumed the worst” after watching the video hundreds of times as they searched for Rambo. Owen is president of Flanders Fields, a nonprofit that raises funds for the evacuation organizations Operation North Star and Task Force Argo.
Two weeks ago, Flanders Fields received a request to procure a safe house in Afghanistan for a high-value target. An hour later, Owen received a pixelated photo of Rambo being embraced by his family members on the floor of the safe house.
Maintaining Rambo’s safety presents continual monetary and logistical struggles for Flanders Fields and Operation North Star, according to The Federalist. Rambo had inadequate time to apply for the documents the State Department requires to enter the United States before the withdrawal, and applying for the passport the Taliban require to exit Afghanistan would also put his life at risk.
According to Duke, the pseudonym for a former Army recon platoon sergeant and Operation North Star volunteer, the only solution is for the U.S. government to set up ”a surged second wave of evacuations” to a host nation where at-risk Afghans such as Rambo can ”be further vetted by the State Department.”
Duke said he receives images and videos of Afghans, including children, who have been executed by the Taliban. Much of the proof he receives comes from Rambo, whose ”commando brothers [are] being tortured and killed,” Duke said. ”It breaks my heart … that [the U.S. government] would leave this man and his family. Nobody at North Star is going to leave him. Never.”
In July, U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. Doug Ramsdell received a call from his former colleague, an Afghan commando The Federalist called Noor Mohammad. Mohammad needed assistance leaving Afghanistan with his family as the Taliban advanced. When Ramsdell jumped in headfirst to save his colleague, Operation 620 was born. By mid-August, Mohammad’s family of 10 had become one of 260.
Those on Ramsdell’s early manifest were Taliban targets, backed by U.S. military personnel willing to vouch for their service to the United States. None, however, met the criteria to apply for the SIV program, which is limited to interpreters and personnel directly employed ”by or on behalf of” the U.S. government. Ramsdell pursued Priority-1, Priority-2, and Humanitarian Parole visas to help these allies reach safety.
When plans to fly the group out of Afghanistan did not materialize, Ramsdell found safe houses and enhanced security measures. Over the following weeks, the organization continued to grow. At present, 620 Afghans, including teachers, medics and aircrew chiefs, are putting their faith in Ramsdell’s team to bring them to safety outside their homeland.
More than 50 Afghans from Operation 620’s original manifest are missing. Ramsdell says they have been ”disappeared” by Taliban hit squads, who have access to biometric data and personnel lists left behind by the U.S.
Last month, Human Rights Watch reported having ”credible information on over 100 killings” of former Afghan military, police and intelligence personnel, though the Taliban’s stranglehold on media initially prevented evidence of these killings from reaching Western audiences.
Due to problems with the SIV program, a chaotic withdrawal and a lack of assistance to U.S. allies or the aid groups supporting them, Afghans stuck in Afghanistan face danger constantly and little hope of a future. Evacuation groups working to bring them to safety need millions of dollars to transport, support and sponsor Afghans as they await processing and vetting. They also need help from the U.S. government.
Operation 620 and Operation North Star spend between $12 and $30 per person each day to provide food, water, protection and safe houses for at-risk Afghans who are hunted in their home country for their service to the United States. These groups’ costs will likely increase as winter and a food crisis arrive.
Both groups are struggling to meet their funding needs. Operation 620 is currently $95,000 in debt, and Operation North Star has run out of funds twice, severely affecting its ability to meet the need. Yet, even as funding dries up, the number of struggling Afghans does not. Owen says he receives ”thousands of messages” from Afghan allies every day.
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