Whatever unit provided the personnel for this final evacuation mission, they had been called in to help with the rescue after other plans had fallen through. The Slovakian government had previously organized one evacuation flight of its own, but had attempted to coordinate with its Norwegian counterparts to get this second group of people out of the country.
Unfortunately, the Taliban had blocked these Afghans from entering the airport before Norway halted its evacuation effort on Aug. 26, citing the deteriorating security situation on the ground. That day, terrorists from Afghanistan’s branch of ISIS launched a deadly attack outside of the airport in Kabul that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans, and wounded many more.
The subsequent Slovakian rescue mission lasted approximately 80 hours and concluded on Monday. A Slovakian plane brought 14 of the 28 individuals back to that country. The remaining 14 Afghan evacuees rode on a U.S. military aircraft to an unspecified NATO country before then moving onward to Slovakia. Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella in Italy, and Naval Station Rota in Spain are among the locations that the United States continues to use as intermediate staging facilities for evacuees from Afghanistan before they are moved to more permanent resettlement locations.
“The people from the departments of defense, foreign affairs and interior who participated in this operation, worked for several days without a break, using all their strength,” Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger said, according to the country’s state-run TASR news outlet.
“Thank you for another successful evacuation from #Afghanistan,” he also wrote on Twitter on Aug. 30. “Operation in extremely difficult conditions resulted into evacuation of 28 #people, who are now safe. Big thanks to the #USA for enormous help and support on the ground.”
Though we can’t say for certain, it would appear that one individual from this rescue mission stayed behind afterward, possibly to try to get others out of the country. We know that a network of ad hoc groups and individuals, including active and retired American special operators, operating with at least some degree of coordination with the U.S. government, were actively working to help individuals, especially at-risk Afghans, safely to the airport in Kabul over the past two weeks or so. The whole enterprise, largely coordinated using tools online, became dubbed a “Digital Dunkirk,” in reference to the famous World War II evacuation operation the British conducted to get troops out of France in 1940.
Many of these rescue efforts were a product of personal connections between foreign troops who had served in Afghanistan since 2001 and Afghans they had worked with during those tours of duty. Though we can say one way or the other, it would not be surprising to learn that a Slovakian special operator would be in contact with Afghans they had worked with over the years and would have tried to stay in the country until the very end to help them escape. Afghans who worked with foreign governments, as well as members of former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, are now at extreme risk of reprisals from the Taliban.
Other stories about individuals still trying to find ways to get at-risk Afghans out of the country continue to emerge, as well. A former British Army military policeman, Ben Slater, who runs a non-governmental organization called Nomad Concepts Group, was arrested and then released by the Taliban yesterday after trying to get a group of individuals out through an unspecified border station. He had previously said he had been able to get 67 other people safely out of Afghanistan.
Markwayne Mullin, a Republican Representative in Congress from Oklahoma, resurfaced earlier this week after effectively disappearing on his own unofficial rescue mission to the region. Mullin had reportedly been seeking to bring a large amount of cash into neighboring Tajikistan, where he planned to charter a helicopter to fly across the border into Afghanistan.
“I am heading home… Have we been helping get Americans out of Afghanistan, yes. Is the mission continuing, yes. Am I missing, no,” he wrote in a post on Instagram on Wednesday. “Am I extremely disappointed in how we (United States) left Americans behind… that would be an understatement.”
Of course, there could be other reasons why the Slovakian special operator was still in Kabul as the last American planes were preparing to leave this week. Hopefully, we will be able to get more details in the future about this particular story.
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