After The Afghanistan Withdrawal, Biden Has Banked On Volunteers To Rescue Americans From War Zones

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by Micaela Burrow, The Daily Caller:

The Biden administration increasingly relies on skilled U.S. military veterans and volunteers to provide critical services for Americans stuck in areas struck suddenly by chaos, people involved in the help and rescue efforts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Groups composed of U.S. military veterans, often former special operators, jumped in to help ferry Afghan allies out of Afghanistan after seeing that the Biden administration abandoned thousands during the country’s collapse to the Taliban. After successive crises leaving Americans stranded in conflict zones — in UkraineSudan and now Israel — these groups have come to fill in gaps where the U.S. government lacks the resources, authorities or will to step in and bring U.S. citizens to safety, group representatives and experts told the DCNF.

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“I think it might become more of a standard for conflict areas where a lot of Americans are and there’s a difficulty getting out,” Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and retired CIA paramilitary operations officer, who also worked on Afghanistan evacuations, told the DCNF. “In Afghanistan, it was a matter of ones personal integrity to keep our word.”

Volunteer-enabled evacuations have taken place in Sudan and Ukraine since the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal. In Israel, the circumstances were different; there was no army overrunning the country despite Hamas’ initial invasion and flights out, though limited, were still available.

In Gaza, “the ability to get people out was so contingent diplomacy that only the U.S. government and the Israeli government in official channels could engage in,” a State Department official with knowledge of the matter told the DCNF. “I don’t think the groups really were able to play the same kind of role in the situation that they were in the past.”

If the situation further deteriorates — if sparks on the northern border spiral into a full-on war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example — they will play an important supplemental role in arranging transportation for Americans to evacuate them from danger, Mulroy predicted.

“Should we have to do this? I don’t think so. Should there be a need for us to do this? I also don’t think so. But we do have to do it,” Tim Kennedy, a U.S. Army Special Forces master sergeant and sniper, told the DCNF.

Kennedy is co-founder of Save Our Allies (SOA), an organization that originated during the Afghanistan withdrawal to rescue members of the Afghan security forces who partnered with the U.S. military and received promises of safety in America. SOA and another veteran-run organization, the Special Operations Association of America (SOAA), worked together at times to evacuate Americans from Israel.

Both groups describe themselves as nonpartisan and have active duty military members on their boards, their websites show. They fill in gaps where the U.S. government cannot operate, and Washington did not recruit or pay them to carry out humanitarian and rescue activities, group leaders and experts told the DCNF. The U.S. has not deployed special operations units in Israel for rescue and recovery or combat operations.

“That would fall into the purview of different organizations that have paramilitary units that are able to do that. There’s no Title 10 money — Congress hasn’t said we’re going to authorize the use of these types of groups to go and do this thing,” Kennedy told the DCNF.

“It falls into into a gray zone, that gray zone is a gap and that gap is where Americans effectively are trapped,” he added. “Not that I want to go into every war zone, but when it comes to Americans, I cannot stand by and let horrific things happen to Americans or our allies.”

Kennedy said one of his advantages was his ability to leverage contacts in defense contracting firms, the State Department and non-governmental organizations built up during his career in the military. In addition, SOA manages ground teams who do the footwork of helping Americans — performing route reconnaissance, filling out paperwork, securing transportation and moving people from one point to another without ambiguity.

“What we were doing was helping those people that were trapped there, get out. So that was in some instances as a liaison between the Department of State, the Egyptian government, the Israeli government [or] the NGO to the military, DOD or [Department of State] counterparts on the United States’ side to help streamline the evacuation of these people,” Kennedy said.

One example is Adam Friedrich, a pastor from Orange, California, who was on vacation in Israel with his elderly father. The two were visiting Jerusalem when the 3,000 Hamas terrorists attacked, and decided they needed to get home earlier than their planned leave date, he told the DCNF. Five airlines canceled flights out of Tel Aviv on them, and by that time Friedrich had maxed out his credit card.

The State Department told Friedrich, like other U.S. citizens wishing to get home, to “put your name on a list, and we’ll get in touch with you,” he told the DCNF.

The State Department relies on sending warnings to U.S. citizens in crisis zones for ensuring their safety as the situation heats up. It has warned U.S. citizens against traveling to IsraelLebanon and Iraq since the Oct. 7 attacks and subsequent escalation in hostilities involving anti-U.S. entities in the region.

In the worst cases, when no commercial transportation is available, the State Department might help Americans identify and potentially arrange options, but only if the agency has embassy personnel on the ground to do so, according to a Q&A on the agency’s travel website.

But, a U.S. government evacuation of roughly half a million U.S. citizens is effectively a nonstarter, Mulroy explained to the DCNF. The massive military-assisted Afghanistan evacuation airlifted roughly 120,000 from a conflict zone.

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