Many long-time Afghanistan specialists know this moment is a turning point. The U.S. government and their NATO allies have ceased evacuation efforts from the Kabul Airport and left many fully qualified evacuees running for their lives. With the Taliban now able to use checkpoints to control access to nearly every airfield, the rules just changed for the evacuation teams. We will need State Department coordination with the Taliban regime to keep the evacuees flowing.
The Need still exists
Hundreds if not thousands of citizen-humanitarians have been working, with and without their governments, around the clock since the Taliban entered Kabul to evacuate Western citizens and Afghan citizens. To say the overall evacuation has been chaotic is an understatement of course. Many Western citizens that could not secure passage to the airport, or even to Kabul, have been left to find their own way home. Afghans that were not qualified to depart, slipped the line and got a flight out in the confusion.
Along with the non-Afghan citizens that are stranded, are many groups of vulnerable Afghans. SIV-holding interpreters and their families are hiding or running. Our phones and emails are full of their documentation and pleas for help. High-risk Afghans from artists, to human rights proponents, to journalists, and Afghans who worked at western organizations are all hiding as well.
Right now, the citizen’s groups that formed in very ad-hoc ways to quickly evacuate their former interpreters, and grew to scoop up every vulnerable person they could, are hitting a wall. Some of the groups have become known in the press and their colorful names speak volumes about the men and women that launched these ventures, or adventures. Others you do not know about, and it is better that way.
Getting over the Wall
Here are the major problems they are facing right now and a few ideas to keep the evacuations moving forward.
First there are a lot of lists of vulnerable people awaiting extractions. Every team has their own list, and not every person who knows a vulnerable person has even gotten their name on any list.
The State Department was overwhelmed, at some points clocking an email per minute. Each email containing a qualified evacuee and their family, with some families having 15 people. Right now, the governments around the world have lists, and the dozens of citizen-evac groups have lists. None have been cross-checked to eliminate duplication—most are in different incompatible formats.
My working group is gathering some key data from each of the non-government groups to try to get a handle on the numbers. We are trying to find out how many each group evacuated, how many remain on their lists, and how much money it would cost that evac-group to clear their lists.
That brings us to the second big issue, money. The evac-groups have been getting funding from various sources, but that fundraising is getting more difficult. Until the lists are consolidated, we can’t even be sure how many more need to be removed. Also, the lack of coordination between groups means that the money is not being spent very wisely at the moment. There are lots of synergies to be gained by consolidating funding and lists at this moment.
The final concern is tying the evacuation process to the resettlement process. Now is the time to slow down and ensure that everyone pulled to safety has a path into a new nation and that the legal processes are being followed. There are lots of resettlement groups hard at work, but again, without a consolidated list, it is hard to forecast how many more are in the pipeline.
More Help Is Needed
A number of actors in the diplomatic, humanitarian, defense, and intelligence fields are cooperating now to form an overarching skeleton to hold the evacuation system together. They aim to synchronize efforts to deconflict the evacuations and find synergy by helping donors get their funds to the right entity. As the citizen-task-forces go back to their full-time jobs and try to save their marriages after deploying at home for two weeks, a fresh set of actors needs to step in and save the capabilities that have been developed.
What these evacuation task forces have done is monumental. I have seen many operations, but nothing like this. Everyone finally took mission-command leadership to heart. Folks all agreed the mission was to save lives, and took off running. Dozens of groups built their airplanes in flight and were already evacuating people before they put the landing gear on. I do not joke when I say a congressional gold medal should be struck to honor this group. They went outside the airport and all over the country to gather people up and drop them in the airport or nearby nations for safety. If only some of our senior leaders had unleashed this type of ingenuity during the last 20 years.
Private Sector Joins Forces
The numbers we are starting to gather reveal that a significant amount of the persons evacuated from Afghanistan were due to the work of the private sector volunteers and entrepreneur’s humanitarian efforts. I am in awe of these volunteers.
If you are interested in closing out your evacuation task force or joining the team to help finish up the operations, reach out to our team through me, and I will connect you to the right people. The aim now of all private citizen teams working evacuation should be to coordinate and partner with the needed parallel efforts from the government. Without that parallel government effort to connect to private evac teams and some policy support, these efforts will continue to have issues. As the State Department builds its virtual remote embassies in D.C. and forward to work with the Taliban to secure the departure of all remaining persons, the private sector is here to help.
On a final note, we must get our arms around these remaining problems to protect our donors as well. Just as many fake groups have popped up to “help the troops” since September 11th, many fake “evacuation groups” are starting to emerge to take money from people that are frantic to rescue their friends. We need one central organization to gather the lists, funnel funds to trusted evacuation teams, and link all evacuees to reputable humanitarian organizations to resettle them in safe environments.
Vetting at all stages is now vital to success. If the mission here is to save lives, then we need to ensure the rest of the process ensures the safety of all those still in need; and also, to work towards safeguarding the human rights of the millions of Afghans who are not leaving their nation. This consolidation and transition phase must also be done in cooperation with many governments to ensure we are helping the right people get to safety. Again, I salute the teams that have been evacuating these persons in need. All of you are someone’s guardian angel right now.