A volunteer group of American military veterans have been helping hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety in a night-time operation called "Pineapple Express," a daring and heroic private mission detailed by embedded ABC News reporters witnessing the heart-pounding operations.
"Dozens of high-risk individuals, families with small children, orphans, and pregnant women, were secretly moved through the streets of Kabul throughout the night and up to just seconds before ISIS detonated a bomb into the huddled mass of Afghans seeking safety and freedom," a leader of the private rescue effort, Army Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret commander, told ABC News, which had journalists embedded with the groups.
The group is working with the U.S. military and U.S. embassy to move people in small groups, if not one at a time, into the secured areas of the U.S.-controlled Hamid Karzai International Airport, according to the report.
The dangers of the operation were increased by the pair of suicide bombings that killed at least 13 U.S. service members and wounded 15 more.
Pineapple Express, an offshoot of "Task Force Pineapple," has rescued 500 Afghan special operators, assets and enablers, and their families overnight to date, ABC News reported.
The operation was named after refugees who would hold up their smartphones showing a graphic of yellow pineapples on a pink field to identify themselves, according to the report. The password has since changed.
"This Herculean effort couldn't have been done without the unofficial heroes inside the airfield who defied their orders to not help beyond the airport perimeter, by wading into sewage canals and pulling in these targeted people who were flashing pineapples on their phones," Mann told ABC News.
The operation began Aug. 15 when the group helped rescue an Afghan commando who was being hunted by the Taliban and had received death threats by text because they knew he was a high-value target having worked with Navy SEAL Team Six for a dozen years.
The operation was made more difficult by the ISIS-K threat warning that came before the suicide bombings.
"We have lost comms with several of our teams," Jason Redman, a wounded former Navy SEAL, texted in an encrypted chat viewed by ABC News.
It was initially believed the blackout might have been because of the Taliban taking down cell towers, but another Task Force Pineapple member, a Green Beret, learned the U.S. military was jamming cell phones to counter terror threats outside the Kabul airport gates.
"The whole night was a roller-coaster ride," Redman told ABC News. "People were so terrified in that chaotic environment. These people were so exhausted, I kept trying to put myself in their shoes."
There have been 630 Afghan lives rescued, Redman told ABC News, lamenting "that our own government didn't do this. We did what we should do, as Americans."
"I have been involved in some of the most incredible missions and operations that a special forces guy could be a part of, and I have never been a part of anything more incredible than this," Army Maj. Jim Gant, a retired Green Beret, told ABC News. "The bravery and courage and commitment of my brothers and sisters in the Pineapple community was greater than the U.S. commitment on the battlefield."
"I just want to get my people out."
Former Green Beret Capt. Zac Lois, the underground railroad's "engineer," hailed the coming together of patriotic veterans.
"That is an astounding number for an organization that was only assembled days before the start of operations and most of its members had never met each other in person," Lois told ABC News.
Dan O'Shea, a retired SEAL commander, told ABC News of the rescue of a U.S. citizen and his Afghan father and brother, having dodged Taliban checkpoints in finally getting on a plane out of Kabul.
"He was not willing to let his father and his brother behind; even it meant he would die," the former counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan, O'Shea, told ABC News.
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