Amid the turmoil of events unfolding in Afghanistan, there is a ray of hope shining through. An underground railroad operation being conducted by veterans and service members has saved close to 1,000 people in Afghanistan. Retired Lt. Colonel and Green Beret Scott Mann joins Joshua Philipp in an incredible episode of Crossroads that you will not want to miss.
Mann calls the task force “Pineapple.” The operation began due to an Afghan commander that Mann befriended in his tours and training in Afghanistan. Referring to his friend as “quite the warrior,” Mann describes how the Afghan commander had been targeted by the Taliban in recent months and applied for a visa, but it wasn’t yet approved. When Kabul fell, it became clear his friend would not be able to get out and that he and his family would be executed. The Afghan soldier was being hunted by the Taliban, receiving text messages telling him he would be beheaded. They were knocking on doors, looking in his uncle’s window where he was staying, and searching his neighborhood for him. Mann says that if he had been found, he would have been killed immediately. “We knew his life was in imminent danger and so we had to take some kind of reasonable action to help him move. This is a guy who had been shot through the face protecting U.S. special forces in combat and demonstrated himself time and time again to show up for us, and we had to honor that promise.”
Mann explains how his friend was in hiding and there was no way for him to get out or move. Even if the State Department could have told him to come into the airport, there was no way for him to be able to make it there. Mann felt that they had made a promise to him, he was in the process of being approved, and they needed to get him out. Using their skills and connections as military veterans, his team was able to get him through the city and help him escape using the code word “pineapple.” That is how task force Pineapple was born.
At its inception, there were only five military veterans working together. However, as needs arose and requests flooded in for help, they were able to expand their network and repeat the process. Within three days, they helped 700 people get through the airport gates to freedom. Mann says they filled a gap, getting people through the city and Taliban checkpoints. “These folks were terrified. They had been beaten at these checkpoints, their children were beaten. They hadn’t eaten in days. They were in squalor waiting for these gates to open.” His task force kept them on the phone, moved them to the right gates at the right times, and helped them through the process as they were struggling. Mann also notes that they were not the only veteran group conducting similar operations.
When asked about the communication with his Afghan friend prior to his rescue, Mann recalls his friend telling him, “I’m not afraid to die. I’m just afraid to die alone without my brothers.” He stresses that people need to understand how the special forces and citizens in Afghanistan were abandoned; their president abandoned them, and their generals took bribes and abandoned them. “These warriors fought till the last bullet.”
In the episode, Mann talks about something called moral injuries; things you have to do in combat that go against what you believe in. Veterans often have to wrestle with these moral injuries for the rest of their lives. That is why he and his veteran community knew they had to do something about the situation in Afghanistan. Between the female judges who had prosecuted the Taliban, to the young girls who demonstrated courage and were involved with nonprofits and arts, it was more than just fighters—it was all the people who were about to be killed that they needed to try and save. They were getting cries for help from the people themselves, as well as getting calls from people in the West Wing, joint chiefs of staff, secretary of the Air Force, etc., as word spread.
LTC Scott Mann: Veterans Network Saves 700+ Lives from Afghanistan with New ‘Underground Railroad’ | Crossroads [Full Episode]
Watch the full episode here.
Mann says that’s what combat veterans do. Together, they became a force composed of Navy Seals, Marines, Infantry officers, and more, all of whom had preexisting relationships with their partners in Afghanistan and who were working with them to move people out of harm’s way. “It was the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen where humanity was just doing the right thing to fill the gaps and supplement where the formal entity was having some challenges.” Through trust and relationships throughout the city, they were able to accomplish what they did. These veterans have sacrificed so much, most of them haven’t slept in weeks, some have lost their jobs or are working without pay, and Mann hopes their story is told for years to come.
Now that the United States has departed, leaving an estimated 100 U.S. citizens and thousands of high-risk Afghans behind, many of whom are moving house to house and being hunted, Mann says he believes this kind of citizen liaison network can play a much-needed role. However, his group needs the recognition and connection with the Department of State and the Department of Defense so they can close that gap and facilitate the connection of Afghans in duress.
According to Mann, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan now remains chaotic. Time will tell how the Taliban will treat people who worked with the former Afghan government, saying that he knows for a fact quite a few have been killed or are missing. Reports like this are increasing and they are getting frantic phone calls from those in danger, many of them American citizens. He says they intend to keep helping as long as they can make a difference.
With the airport now being in Taliban hands and the United States pulled out fully, they are still able to help those in need by talking with their connections and trying to tie it all together. They also work with organizations who are actively working to recover and resettle the rescued Afghans. Together, these veterans are leveraging their relationships and creating an extensive network. For example, people on the ground have to navigate sometimes 20 checkpoints in order to reach the airport, as well as trying to convince their family who have been beaten and haven’t eaten in days to keep going. “An email can’t do that. But relationships and trust can. There’s going to have to be more of that in the coming weeks and months for American citizens and Afghan partners if we have any hope of honoring the promise that we made.”
Citing his personal experience, Man admits it has been hard. He says it has been very triggering for all of them. They are combat veterans who have endured so much, they have been on the ground in Afghanistan, many have severe PTSD or deal with survivor guilt. They have somehow found a way to come home and try to assimilate back into society, and they attempt to fight that fight every day. Now, they are seeing everything they have built in Afghanistan potentially being destroyed and the people they had made a commitment to in danger of being killed. These veterans willingly went back into the fray. There were no shifts, no relief. They often spent hours on the phone with Afghans, listening as their friends and partners were beaten. Mann talks of a 6-year-old child being trampled to death, or a pregnant woman giving birth in line at the checkpoint as her husband was pulled away from her. Through it all, they stayed on the phone with those in need and helped these people persevere to freedom. “It has done untold amounts of damage. There’s no doubt about it. But they willfully did it because they knew that that was the only way to take reasonable action to ensure the safety of the people that they had made a promise to,” says Mann, noting that he hopes the government recognizes this sacrifice, as well as the potential his group offers to rebuild and restore what is missing and to fulfill the promise the United States has made to Afghanistan.
While these activities are triggering and have had a serious effect on many, Mann notes that thousands of veterans continue to reach out and say thank you for giving them hope that their work has meaning and they can still help. Mann thinks both sides of the aisle seem inspired by these actions, reminded of who we are as Americans and what we can do when we harness our values and morals and come together to do good in the world. “It’s kind of a rally cry. Pineapple is not Green Berets, it’s not Scott Mann, it’s our better selves. It’s taking actions that we can reasonably do to prevent injury and death to our friends who we made a promise to. It’s honoring a promise. It’s stepping up and doing the right thing while our children watch us. It’s taking negative fear and anger and division that seems to permeate our country on both sides of the aisle and moving it towards resolution.” Mann says he is so thankful for the combat veterans who stepped up and showed real leadership in honoring the constitution they swore to defend.
For anyone wanting to help, Mann recommends contacting the organization “No One Left Behind,” which assists with the resettlement for Afghan refugees. He also suggests OperationRecovery.org to help get Afghans to safety within the country and out of harm’s way. Other ways to help are talking to your congressman and letting them know that citizen liaison networks such as his are what is helping and needed. If you run a business, reach out and let organizations know that you want to hire Afghans or sponsor an Afghan family. “There’s so much that we can do,” says Mann. “They’ve been severely traumatized. Forty years of war plus, beaten at the gates, they’re going to need everything we can give them and our warmth and our embrace as they come to their new home.” He notes that we don’t want these displaced Afghans to withdraw once they get to the United States and feel like they can’t be part of this American experiment. Together, Mann has proven that individual Americans can use their creativity and resources to show up, do the right thing, and be a meaningful solution in a time of chaos and need.
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