Great deeds require bravery, honor and loyalty; those three values, or whatever you want to call them, were what a group of American special operations veterans demonstrated with the “Pineapple Express” mission.
According to an ABC News story, after the Taliban seized Kabul and positioned themselves around the airport, “an all-volunteer group of American veterans of the Afghan war launched a final daring mission on Wednesday night dubbed the ‘Pineapple Express’ to shepherd hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety.”
The media outlet exclusively reports that these brave American veterans moved in small groups —sometimes in pairs or even one person at a time— Afghan nationals who were potentially at risk of death because they had collaborated with or were related to Afghans who worked for the United States.
The mission was conducted under complex circumstances, “moving after nightfall in near-pitch black darkness and extremely dangerous condition,” ABC said. Even as “Pineapple Express” was in full swing, the most frightening thing happened: the terrorist attack perpetrated by ISIS on Thursday, August 26.
“The Pineapple Express mission was underway Thursday when the attack occurred in Kabul. A suicide bomber believed to have been an ISIS fighter killed at least 13 U.S. service members — 10 U.S. Marines, a Navy corpsman, an Army soldier and another service member — and wounded 15 other service members, according to U.S. officials,” ABC reported. “There were wounded among the Pineapple Express travelers from the blast, and members of the group said they were assessing whether unaccounted-for Afghans they were helping had been killed.”
Still, the difficulties did not prevent the mission from being a total success, as the American veterans, by early Thursday, managed to rescue “as many as 500 Afghan special operators, assets and enablers and their families into the airport in Kabul overnight, handing them each over to the protective custody of the U.S. military.”
Those five hundred people were in addition to 130 others who were rescued in recent days “by Task Force Pineapple, an ad hoc groups of current and former U.S. special operators, aid workers, intelligence officers and others with experience in Afghanistan who banded together to save as many Afghan allies as they could.”
Scott Mann, an Army lieutenant colonel and retired Green Beret commander who was leading the mission, told ABC that “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.”
According to ABC News, which was following the mission under confidentiality via encrypted chat, the “objective was to move individuals and families through the cover of darkness on the ‘Pineapple Express.'”
A heart-stopping mission
The operation began Wednesday night, part of Task Force Pineapple, “an informal group whose mission began as a frantic effort on Aug. 15 to get one former Afghan commando who had served with Mann into the Kabul airport as he was being hunted by the Taliban who were texting him death threats.”
This same commando, whose identity was not disclosed, had long worked with the U.S. military against the Taliban and was a valuable target for the terrorist group. In fact, two months ago, the man “had narrowly escaped a tiny outpost in northern Afghanistan that was later overrun while awaiting his U.S. special immigrant visa to be approved,” ABC said.
This man, along with his family of six, was saved by the Pineapple Express mission. The special forces veterans did not leave him behind. Likewise, the other small Afghan groups that were also rescued had to endure harassment from the Taliban. Fortunately, the militants did not find their documents, such as visas or visa applications, which could have endangered them.
“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,” Lt. Col. Mann told ABC. The pineapples were a code or a message to identify the “passengers,” meaning allied Afghans guided by the “shepherds” who, in turn, were “their loyal former U.S. special operations forces and CIA comrades and commanders.”
“There was one engineer, a few conductors, as well as people who were performing intelligence-gathering duties. The intelligence was pooled in the encrypted chat group in real-time and included guiding people on maps to GPS pin drops at rally points for them to stage in the shadows and in hiding until summoned by a conductor wearing a green chem ligh,” ABC said.
When they received the signal from the driver, passengers were to display on their cell phones a message that apparently carried yellow pinecones on a pink field.
There was a moment of extreme tension on the night of Wednesday the 25th because, hours before the terrorist attack, “intelligence warnings were issued about possible attacks with improvised explosive devices by ISIS-K”, then, the connections between the herders and the group were lost. “We have lost comms with several of our teams,” Jason Redman, a combat-wounded former Navy SEAL who was guiding some Afghans, said in the encrypted chat.
Some feared that the Taliban had cut or removed the telephone wires; they had not, the “U.S. military had employed cell phone jammers to counter the IED threat at Abbey gate.” An hour later, contacts between passengers and shepherds were restored.
Redman told ABC that “the whole night was a roller-coaster ride. People were so terrified in that chaotic environment. These people were so exhausted, I kept trying to put myself in their shoes.” The former SEAL also lamented that the U.S. government did not do enough to help the Afghan allies. They alone, with their mission, saved 630 Afghan lives. “We did what we were supposed to do, as Americans.”
A good portion of the Afghan allies “arrived near Abbey Gate and waded through a sewage-choked canal toward a U.S. soldier wearing red sunglasses to identify himself. They waved their phones with the pineapples and were scooped up and brought inside the wire to safety.”
Another party was brought in “by an Army Ranger wearing a modified American flag patch with the Ranger Regiment emblem.”
A key member of the operation was former Green Beret Captain Zac Lois, who led a group of “drivers” from an informal ground team, he said the operation was historic, as the number of people rescued 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.”
All in all, the Pineapple Express mission, more details of which will probably be forthcoming in the future, will go down in the great history of American special forces veterans. For not only did they save hundreds of lives of people allied to the United States, but they vindicated American worth and honor, just at a time when the U.S. is accused of forgetting its allies. These are the kind of operations that deserve exposure and a story in good cinema.