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Drawing by contributing editor, political cartoonist and author Jeff Danziger. He is a member of the Geneva-based Cartooning for Peace.

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A surprising number of the participants were former Special Forces and SEAL team members. The site’s concept was to establish a communications channel linking Afghans and Americans at risk in Kabul with breaking information on the evacuation operations at Kabul’s US-occupied Hamid Karzai International Airport—referred to on the site as HKIA.  

Since many of the participants were active or former military, the Slack channels were heavy on acronyms.  TB was short for Taliban. SIV stood for ‘Special Immigration Visa,’ i.e. an Afghan with an emergency visa to go to the US.  POC stood for ‘Point of Contact,’ the contact you hoped could get you into the airport and on a plane out of Afghanistan.

While statements from the White House and State Department seemed detached about the tragedy taking place, as if Afghans could now be considered collateral damage from the failed policies of previous generations, the clipped messages from those Americans who knew Afghanistan and cared what happened there were harder to ignore.

The communication links seemed to come from everywhere and they flowed in an endless stream, time stamped to the moment:

From Lauren at 9:00 PM Kabul time, several days ago:

I have an Amcit (American citizen) that I can’t get to the airport.  The Amcit is a baby (three months), traveling with mom (I-797 filed, married to US citizen), grandma (LPR), uncle (SIV under review).  Dad is in VA (citizen) and out of his mind with worry.
They got an email to go to MoI (Ministry of Interior) and there would be a bus there, but it had been taken over by the Taliban.  They waited eight hours there today, but were not permitted near the buses to the airport.

They’re not sure what to do now.

From Asim: 9:57

7 groups with papers who are also on a manifest to leave from Kabul but doesn’t know how to get transportation for them all (e.g. buses). What channel should I direct the POC to???

From Laura, 8:24 AM

If you are tracking AMCIT (American citizen) child 13 years and younger, and are DIRECTLY in contact w/ nuclear family members, have copies of their passports and can confirm AMCIT status, can confirm that both mother/father are also trying to depart together with child/children, preferably have USG/USMIL reference/s for parent and have already emailed neo addresses, please reach out to me in a direct message only. 

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From Jeff,  2:14 PM

I’ve got a family hiding in Kabul (Afghan wife / child; husband in US is AMCIT and SIV recipient).  We’ve sent in multiple evac requests through the official channels and they are still holding out a sliver of hope that they might get an outreach telling them to go to airport.  The primary in the group got a call about an hour ago from US-based number.  As soon as she picked up, they caller hung up.  No words exchanged on either side. I subsequently called the number.  zip-code is Arlington, automated message (female, American accent voice) asking for a 5-digit pin. Hypotheses I have at this point to explain the call: (1) sophisticated TB(Taliban) phishing making outbound calls through this number (2) It was a legit reach-out from DoD/DoS but for some reason, caller hung up.  (A) Does anyone know – if a group is going to get called for evac (with instructions to come to HKIA) at this point, should they expected a specific number?  If not a specific number, do we know if Afghan or US-based? Would the actual caller be an interpreter on ground at HKIA? (B) Has anyone heard of TB (Taliban) or other phishing happening which could explain this?

From Mo, 1:40 PM

I think going to Mazar-e-Sharif should not be a big deal, my question is there a next step once folks get in to Mazar-e-Sharif? I have a couple families who might go that route. Just want to know what resources are available for the next step.

From Bobby,  1:49 PM

***Break Break***
A U.S. Marine (2nd generation Afghan-American) from 1st Battalion 5th Marines is trying to get his family out of HKIA. 9 pax holding a Cherokee 1/5 sign. Please disseminate widely!! SIV Applicants.

Inevitably the messages darkened as time began running out.

Laura at 5:26 AM:

All the information I have indicates that the USG has ended the facilitation of additional individuals onto HKIA for evacuation. Washington is – and has been – disconnected from the realities on the ground. If you read the press statements carefully, they walk a fine line of saying they’re evacuating (likely they mean the people still on the airport compound) but not acknowledging what we have heard time and again directly from AMCITS on the ground – US passport holders are not being allowed into the gates at this time and often were not allowed close enough to the gates by the Taliban when they were “open for US passport holders” over the last few days. All information I have indicates the gates are closed and/or controlled by the Taliban. Despite what the Taliban says and despite official USG statements, the Taliban is not facilitating US passport holders or green card holders through at this time, much less Afghans w/ any type of visa or no visa. The Taliban has repeatedly turned away many US passport holders for the last couple days, preventing them from accessing the airport.  If you have information different to this and have heard a gate is open and facilitating entry, before directing anyone, I would seek information on the sourcing and try to reach the ultimate source – is it a USG official? Are they on the ground in Afghanistan? What authorities do they have?

I think there is a low likelihood of a USG official on the ground going to a gate and telling the Taliban to let a bus or individual through. I hope I am wrong and there will be a policy decision at the to change this. I think the likelihood of that happening given policy decisions to-date, as well as the withdrawal timeline and USMIL supplies that need to be flown out of HKIA so they don’t fall into Taliban hands, is low. Many remaining almost certainly will not gain entry to HKIA and will not be manifested on a flight. Even if they are a USCIT. In light of this, they should determine for themselves their risk tolerance for an attempted wait at a gate vs the risk of an attack vs exit of the country by a land border or a wait-and-see approach on the possibility of the Taliban allowing civilian air traffic, and the likelihood (and unlikelihood) of being able to depart the country officially via plane. Each person’s ethnic background, passport/visa type, and previous activities/work/affiliations in Afghanistan will factor into which method they attempt to exit, and whether they attempt to cross a land border officially or unofficially.  I know people are well meaning, but some are providing advice on these exfil scenarios with limited to no experience to support that advice. Sources with “service in Afghanistan,”  “an intelligence background,” an “SF background” etc does not necessarily make one knowledgeable about exfil.There is a lot of circular information on rescue plans at HKIA and other airports swirling, along with land border exit plans, augmented with each relay. Most of these plans are not realistic. If you track it back to the original source, you will find it is often someone well-meaning and with a slight degree of experience, but no actual ability to implement successfully and no real awareness of ethnic, cultural, and legal / illegal operating procedures on the ground. Please be mindful of spreading information that may lead to more unintended consequences. (edited) 

Then, Dave  at 2:58 PM

If you have American passport holders get them to the Southgate now. They are allowing them on. But only US passport holders. And give them this number to call if they are having issues – US Embassy State Afghan direct line – coordinating with gate to get AMCITS in – give to your AMCITS to call.

Emily, 11:57 AM, Monday

“Tell people DO NOT go to the airport now. Last US wheels leave in 15 minutes. After that, it will be overrun by TB.” Latest on Kabul airport from an international safety and security officer for one of the world’s largest relief organizations

“Private advice being circulated by deputy assistant secretary of defense is for all visa holders/high risk pers, including those who had submitted their names to an evacuation manifest, to leave Kabul immediately. ‘As soon as the US is out, the roundups will begin.’”

The pullout happened just before midnight local. 

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Insights Magazine’s America’s editor based in Philadelphia. Tom’s Paine is his regular column. Over the past decades, he has covered much of the globe for TIME, ABC News and other news organizations.

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