A group of former U.S. special operations officers have volunteered to attempt one last mission they call the “Pineapple Express,” a plan to help evacuate hundreds of vulnerable Afghan allies and their families out of the tumultuous country.
The group told ABC News that it worked informally with the United States military and the U.S. embassy to help escort people, individually and in pairs, across the gate and into the U.S. military-controlled area of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The group worked in the dead of night risking their lives as the crisis in Afghanistan has now reached its peak after the airport was attacked by ISIS-K.
The attack is exactly what triggered the Pineapple Express to descend on Kabul to aid the U.S. service members and allies who were still there. The attacks, which left 13 U.S. service members dead– 10 U.S. Marines, a Navy corpsman, and an Army soldier amongst them– also left 15 other service members wounded.
The Pineapple Express helped the wounded reach safe conditions, and has brought 500 Afghan special operators, assets and enablers as well as their loved ones securely to the airport and into the custody of the U.S.
The Pineapple Express formed in order to assist Task Force Pineapple, a group of aid workers, intelligence officers, and U.S. special operators that had been working to move people into the airport since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban on August 16th.
“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,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, who directed the rescue mission, to ABC News.
U.S. special operations officers initially joined together after multiple Afghan allies were in danger
Task Force Pineapple developed out of an initial rescue attempt dedicated to just one former Afghan commando who served with Mann. He was desperately trying to reach the Kabul airport while being targeted by the Taliban. The militant organization had sent him multiple death threats.
They were aware of the fact that the commando had worked with the SEAL Team Six for over a decade, and were highly motivated to capture him. He had narrowly escaped northern Afghanistan two months while awaiting approval fo his U.S. special immigrant visa.
The commando and his six family members were finally brought to safety this week after a complex, heavily orchestrated effort from Mann and his team. The team utilized a coded symbol, the “pineapple” of their name, to help guide the groups:
“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,” said Mann to ABC News.