The text message arrived in the afternoon — late at night in Afghanistan: “We have flight approval. So be ready to notify families tonight.”
I air-punched the ceiling and blurted out a string of celebratory expletives. I had been waiting for this message for weeks: The Afghan interpreter who years before had risked his life for me, patrolling alongside my infantry platoon, was finally going to escape a country where the new government had vowed to kill him.
I messaged “Rock” (for his safety I can’t use his real name) and told him to stand by for information on where to meet the organizers who would take him to the airport. Afraid that the Taliban knew where evacuees were staying, for six days Rock had scarcely left his cell-like hotel room, with its grimy wallpaper, rickety ceiling fan and a couple of sleeping pads.
“Got confirmation. Go there now.” I sent Rock the address for the linkup point. To avoid drawing attention to himself, Rock carried only a small backpack and his Afghan passport. Maybe this time, I thought, after half-a-dozen false starts and last-minute failures, Rock would finally get out.
The text message I had received with the welcome news was not sent by the U.S. government. Instead, it had come from members of Task Force Argo, a group belonging to the broader coalition of volunteers sometimes referred to as #AfghanEvac.
Task Force Argo is made up primarily of current and former military veterans, intelligence analysts and Department of Defense personnel; its website claims the group has successfully evacuated 2,216 people: U.S. citizens and “Afghan Allies” — interpreters, commandos, government officials and their families. Many of these evacuees had worked closely with American forces over the 20-year Afghan war.
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