Near-empty charter flights depart Afghanistan

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Evacuees board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 23, 2021.

With days to go before the U.S. is slated to fly aircraft out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport for the last time – effectively bringing the two-decade war to a dismal close – desperate and fearful Afghans and American citizens face an anguished final fight for freedom.

The mayhem has prompted a slew of private companies to set up their own operations – although many have bemoaned that despite having the aircraft and funding to evacuate thousands, obtaining landing permits for the US-controlled airport has been exceedingly difficult, if not altogether impossible.

“Disneyland and Mickey Mouse are better at queuing and getting people on rides then the US government is in getting its patriots home from a war zone,” said Washington fixer Robert Stryk, who has been chartering private planes out of Kabul with the help of former Navy SEAL and U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA).

Evacuees board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 23, 2021.
A slew of private companies set up their own operations to evacuate people from Afghanistan.
Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marine Corps via AP

According to Stryk, they have had to rely on intel from foreign allies – in large part British M16 agents – to help facilitate people through and locate evacuees.

“The system is broken, so we have had to go around the U.S. system by using foreign countries intelligence agencies to get Americans through. The issue is if the paperwork isn’t perfect – names are spelled differently with ethnic spellings or if SIV spellings don’t exactly match passports, they can’t get through,” he said. “The only guys going outside the wire have been the South Africans, Brits, French Special Forces and the Qataris. And they have been super helpful to us.”

Taylor and Stryk partnered with Regulus Global, a Virginia-based logistics company that specializes in humanitarian and national security missions in various hotspots around the globe. As part of their initiative, they have also created a database to store visa and passport information to help expedite entry into the airport and mitigate the backlog of those wishing to flee.

Taylor noted that their role has “morphed and changed over the week” and that they are currently fielding thousands of requests for evacuation and documentation by the day.

Evacuees board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 23, 2021.
Obtaining landing permits for the US-controlled airport has been exceedingly difficult for private companies.
AP
Evacuees board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 23, 2021.
Private evacuation flights are slated to end Thursday or Friday.
AP

“There were charter flights that were basically empty, so we have been working in real time to try and fill the seats and using our databases to identify who is in the airport,” he explained.

Stryk stressed that the endeavor is strictly not-for-profit, and his company has lost money as a result of the work – something he dismisses as not important during this dire time of need.

The chaos on the airport’s periphery, in which the Taliban is turning away dual nationals in a bid to keep as many Afghans in the embattled country as possible, has meant that non-US evacuation flights are departing with scores of empty seats even as the curtain for departure is fast falling.

Word on the ground is that private evacuation flights should end Thursday or Friday, although it remains unclear if that timeline will still be followed given that tens of thousands of Americans and those who supported America through the war effort are still unable to physically reach the airport. Moreover, it does not factor in the many hundreds – potentially thousands – of Americans stranded in other Taliban-controlled areas in far-flung provinces of Afghanistan.

The U.S. government and its allies have evacuated more than 80,000 people since Aug. 14. However, some contend that the allies are being given far freer hands from their leadership to conduct successful rescues. Assessments indicate that even if the US works above and beyond between now and Aug. 31, it is mathematically impossible for all to successfully leave.

“We have over 67,000 Americans and Afghan patriots who need to still get out,” Stryk said. “We are getting a lot of calls. Private citizens are stepping up in the face of complete abject moral and ethical failures by the U.S. government.”

He also expressed concern that many of the most vulnerable Afghans without political connections or the means to pay for safe passage are the ones left behind so far.

Nonetheless, the White House remains steadfast that the US is sticking to this coming Tuesday as the departure deadline.

“The window is closing – it could be tomorrow. My gut feeling is that there is going to be a drop dead point, a point where you better be in the airport or it’s too late,” Taylor cautioned.

And if this calamity and level of crisis wasn’t enough to contend with, the worse may be yet to come should the U.S. depart with Americans still languishing in the Taliban-controlled country.

“If the Talibans make good on what they are saying, which is that they are not going to let Afghans get to the airport – including those with American passports – we could potentially have the biggest American hostage situation in history on our hands,” Taylor added. “That is not hyperbole. When the troops are gone, all hell is breaking loose.”

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