Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan three weeks ago, groups of highly trained U.S. military veterans across the country have joined forces in a coordinated, all-volunteer effort to secretly rescue Americans and allies desperate to get out of Afghanistan.
“Never could I have ever imagined that we’d have an operation that had to be carried out by civilians,” said retired U.S. Air Force Special Operations Commander Major Glenn Ignazio. “We leave no man behind; these people were abandoned. People may not like that word, but I cannot say it any other way -- they were abandoned.”
It’s a mission the 22-year veteran of the Air Force told NBC 7 has become the most important of his career.
Ignazio said it’s not about politics – that there will be plenty of time to point fingers at people to blame for the rushed military exodus from Afghanistan later, but right now, time is running out for the U.S. citizens and allies in hiding as the Taliban and ISIS-K tighten their grip on the country.
“The amount of people that have stepped up and done this is monumental,” he said. “This will go down in history as one of the most incredible humanitarian efforts.”
He said veterans are uniquely fit for this role because they’re not bound by the same rules as active U.S. troops and they’re using skills honed during their service, as well as their time as civilians.
Ignazio said the group he works with is one of dozens nationwide and it has already rescued hundreds of people.
He said there’s no timeline on their operation to rescue every American and ally who wants to leave Afghanistan.
He told NBC 7 he can’t share many details because evacuations are active and ongoing, but explained that the group he works with is “using every connection that has been made for 20 years to find these people's locations and look at all the assets that we have on the ground there; to get them from any location to a place out of Afghanistan.”
He said the herculean effort is accomplished by veterans working anonymously from within Afghanistan as well as operatives in neighboring Middle Eastern countries to coordinate a safe passage to America for those evacuated.
Ignazio told NBC 7 this is his message to those Americans and allies still waiting to be rescued:
“Never ever quit. If you give in, it's over,” he said. “Stay safe, hole up, and see what settles in the coming days."
"Any kind of connection you have to the U.S., sanitize yourself so that nobody can say that you're connected to us," he continued. "Try to get in touch with organizations that are helping out and be calm, cool, and collected for what's going to come in the coming days. Just be patient."