As the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, thousands of American veterans, active-duty military, former government officials and civil servants are working together online to save the lives of their families, friends and allies there.
According to a Washington Post report, the effort is being referred to as ''Digital Dunkirk,'' a reference to the evacuation of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches of northern France in 1940 during World War II. So far, as the result of online efforts by scores of Americans, several hundred Afghans have made it to safety, with many more in need of their help.
The volunteers, largely based in the United States, use technology such as encrypted conversations to secure FaceTime calls to connect with Americans and Afghans. They help guide them through the paperwork, connect them to U.S. personnel in Kabul, and get them to the airport, past Taliban checkpoints, through the crowds, past the security gate, into the airport, and on to flights.
''We need people at every gate, 24 hours a day, working with the Marines or whatever,'' said Jon Reed, a former Green Beret who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. ''People are on the wall and saying, 'I've received this information, I have the signal, I see them in the crowd, let's get them in.' And then they can get on their paperwork once they're in. So that's the mechanism that we're trying to build in place.''
The goal is to get evacuees on planes, be they U.S. military flights on C-17s, allied flights from countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, or charter flights.
According to Yahoo News, the volunteer efforts have grown increasingly difficult as the Taliban tighten their grip on Kabul and the U.S. begins to withdraw military forces before next week's deadline. The Taliban are blocking Afghans from getting through their checkpoints almost entirely, and many Americans have been threatened and beaten.
Once an evacuee makes it past the Taliban, they must make it through the crush of the crowd and security gates manned by U.S., U.K. and other allied military forces. Sometimes, the Taliban threats, crowds and bureaucratic hurdles have been nearly insurmountable.
''As an American, I'm tired of feeling powerless,'' said Joe Saboe, a former infantry officer who fought in Mosul, Iraq. ''And I've seen things that I don't like happening in the world.''
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