‘Digital Dunkirk’- Military Veteran-Led Effort to Get People Around Taliban Checkpoints

digital dunkirk

A network of US veterans and others are working to save not just interpreters, but others by using roadmaps, satellite imagery, along with online or social media to lead people around the Taliban checkpoints, and get them into the right gate at Kabul airport. The effort is dubbed “Digital Dunkirk.” The airport is surrounded by the Taliban, who are using sticks, whips, and gunfire to manage the crowds… and find their enemies. One of the organizers told Fox that there are “hundreds of thousands ” of people who have joined the effort.

Digital Dunkirk

These people that we’re talking about … they were our eyes and ears on the battlefield. They’d hear Taliban communications ordering fighters to shoot the interpreters first…From the Taliban’s perspective, they won. They want revenge, they want retribution.

Matt Zeller, former CIA Analyst.

Even if the people they are trying to help make it past the Taliban, Zeller said that they need to be prepared to wait up to 10 hours with no food, water, or bathroom inside the airport. The digital Dunkirk effort may be able to get them to the airport, but from there it’s a long haul.

I’ve got friends who have told me that they’ve had literally U.S. citizens standing in the crowd waving their blue passports screaming ‘I’m a U.S. citizen,’ and the Marines can’t come get them. If they aren’t evacuated now, then “they’re gonna be dead, and we’ll regret for the rest of our lives having failed them…

“We would role into a village and [our interpreter] would tap me on the shoulder and say ‘something’s wrong here,’” Zeller said. “’Normally when we come here, that guy comes out with tea, and those kids are over there playing with a soccer ball, and there’s no one around. This is a bad thing. We usually get attacked when it’s like this.’”

“And five minutes later, we’re getting shot at,” Zeller continued.

“That type of insight saves lives,” he said. “That cultural context cannot ever be replaced other than by standing next to someone who came from there.”

Fox

Members of the “Digital Dunkirk” have spent hours and hours on cell phones and online, coordinating with the right people to rescue whoever they can. The name is catchy, but the real Dunkirk was done by boat in Europe, not in the heat of Afghanistan.

Charlie Mike: Continue the Mission

The massive mission of coordinating the people on the ground with assets has been joined by not just military veterans, but organizations for ‘human rights, faith and political advocacy.’ But the Digital Dunkirk effort began with a huge group of US veterans who were getting “pinged” by Afghans and Americans in trouble.

A website set up by a group of West Point graduates guides Afghans through the process, but the wild cards are the actions of the Taliban who surround the HKIA. Though the occupant of the WH stated that the US has an “agreement” with the Taliban, it has been said that they are taking US passports and documents from people. (New York Post)

The organization No One Left Behind says that over the last 20 years, over 300 interpreters and their families  have been killed  by the Taliban. And they have been actively looking for those interpreters who helped Americans. Estimates say that there are approximately 20,000 interpreters that assisted the US. And in spite of the best efforts of the veteran groups, some don’t make it.

“What it feels like is operating one of those arcade claw games from about 7,000 miles away,” he said. Johnson spent about 12 hours on Wednesday trying to get just one person into the airport grounds, the 60-year-old mother of a U.S. citizen. The woman’s husband worked for the United States for 19 years, and the Taliban had already come to the house asking for his whereabouts. (Johnson declined to name the family members due to security concerns.)

On Wednesday, having shredded photos depicting her family members with Americans—which Johnson said would amount to a “death sentence” if found—the woman made her way to the airport while Johnson back-channeled with contacts at the State Department to try to ensure that someone would let her through the gate. 

“The mother said she was getting stepped on and jostled in the 90-degree heat and after about five or six hours she gave up,” he said. The woman’s daughter later found out that her mother had briefly passed out in the crush.

Foreign Policy

Their efforts have brought several people to safety, and given the veterans a renewed sense of purpose.

Adam DeMarco, another West Point graduate who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the evacuation efforts had helped give many veterans a renewed sense of mission as the Taliban once again took over the country. 

“One of the biggest issues we see with veterans is that sense of lack of purpose,” DeMarco said. He added that thousands of veterans had been offering to help.

On Tuesday, when the West Point group was notified that three Afghan graduates of the military academy they were aiding had been successfully evacuated along with their families, a total of 19 people, DeMarco said he broke down in tears. 

“It was such a release of emotion.”

Foreign Policy

Leadership failure

Many US veterans say they would gladly don their uniforms again and join any effort to save Americans and those who were once allies.

“I already know of at least one veteran suicide over this. I would love for someone to call up and say ‘Major Zeller, you need to put your uniform on, you’re being sent to Afghanistan to help out with us.’ I don’t know of a single veteran that I’ve spoken with who feels any differently…I can’t imagine what it must be like for the U.S. troops at the Kabul airport who have to stand 50 meters away from the Taliban and watch them be thugs and not be able to do a damn thing about it.”

Matt Zeller

“Lead me, follow me, or get of my way.” General George Patton

Charlie Mike, gentlemen

*****

Featured photo: Screenshot of Afghans at Kabul airport

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