Tim Kennedy on Witnessing the Fall of Afghanistan


2 years ago



Tim Kennedy

5 appearances

Tim Kennedy is a Green Beret, retired UFC fighter, founder of Sheepdog Response, and co-founder of Save our Allies: an organization dedicated to rescuing and relocating Americans and allies in war-torn environments. www.timkennedy.com


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So since we've talked last on the podcast, you have been, well, let's go all the way back to Afghanistan. Oh, God. Because you were there. Yep. Oh, God, indeed. You were there during the worst of it when the pullout was happening. Yep. So, yeah, with 20-something deployments overseas, I've never seen anything like Afghanistan during the fall of Afghanistan. I don't know who was at a strategic level not anticipating that the Taliban, every time that we moved an inch on the ground, that the Taliban would not move an inch on the ground. So myself and all of my peers, all my colleagues, fully forecasted what was going to happen. So as soon as we started collapsing that ground, there was no doubt in any of our minds that every inch of ground that we gave up was ground that the Taliban was going to take. So when we gave up Kandahar and Bagram, the two strategic military bases, that means that we just gave up the rest of the country. We having been at war there for 20 years and multiple trips over there, we have lots of friends that deployed with us there. The Afghans have a special operations unit called the Commandos. We worked alongside them. Our interpreters are obviously from Afghanistan. So they live in Afghanistan, but they work for us. These people have security clearances. They love the idea of democracy and freedom. They love the idea of a free, independent Afghanistan. They want their daughters to be educated. And those ideals, that philosophy does not align with the Taliban. So as Taliban start taking over Afghanistan, my phone just starts exploding from all of my friends and asking me to go contracting companies saying, hey, I'll pay you 10 grand a day to go grab this guy. But none of it was altruistic. None of it was the right call to action. It was lots of people. Yes, it was going to go and save life, but it was for money. I don't know what I was waiting for. I wasted two days trying to figure out what is the right thing to do here. Until my phone rang, I was in the middle of writing that book. And I was with Nick Palmachano, who's my coauthor on this book. He's sitting next to me. We're working. My phone rings. Chad Robichaux calls me. And he was a Marine special operations guy that had multiple deployments there. And he had a translator named Aziz. And Aziz worked specific to special missions units, like the tip of the spear type units. And Aziz had already been told that they're coming to find him. And Aziz was on the run with his family. And they were very, very explicit about what they were going to do to his wife and his children in front of him before they kill him. And then Aziz's friends start being murdered. So Chad calls me and says, hey, man, I'm going to go get Aziz. Can you help me? And I said, yes. I'm on my way. At the same moment next to me, Nick is talking to a young woman named Sarah Verardo. Sarah is this powerhouse. She runs the Independence Fund, which is a military veteran nonprofit that takes care of severely wounded veterans and give them automatic track chairs. Her husband is one of the worst. This is a weird title to hold. But he is one of the worst wounded veterans, veterans from the Afghan war. That's her husband. And she's the provider and care and sole care provider. I don't know what the right word is. She takes care of him. And he was wounded in Afghanistan. So her heart is like just, but she has lots of friends in the government. So in this moment, we have the right kind of two people. I have a good mission. I know what I'm gonna do. It's morally right and somebody has to do it or a disease and my friend's friend is gonna be murdered. And I have a method. Sarah can get us routes and approval from the government. So the four of us started this NGO called Save Our Allies. And that literally that phone call was the beginning of what is now, you know, what was the most successful NGO movement in a non-government organization, a nonprofit. So Save Our Allies, like that call initiated it. Nick and I were on a plane into the Middle East the next day. We flew into the UAE, the crown prince was like the most generous host that you could imagine. One of our friends used to ride motorcycles with the crown prince. And he said, I will give you a C-17 plane. If you can land it, fill it up with a perfect manifest of people and get it out, I'll give you another plane. And that was the initial promise. And 10 days later, we moved 12,000 people out of Afghanistan. 11% of everybody that left the country during the evacuation, me and three of my friends on the ground and 12 of us total in the Middle East moved. Nobody remembers, you know, people hanging on to the landing gear of aircraft and falling to their death. Like that was peak Afghanistan withdrawal. And that is when we got there. So when you say that it was like nothing you had seen in 20 years of being deployed. Yeah. In what way? I mean, Taliban is going to Taliban. So they are definitely doing their thing. But it was the desperation of the people trying to find a way to live. So at each of these gates, a neo operation, it's a non-combatant evacuation operation. It's a military operation if a neo takes place. They keep calling it a neo, but that's if the military ran it. And if the military ran it, you would see, you know, a special forces unit with a big, like the Ranger Regiment or 82nd Airborne that come in, that build this huge exterior perimeter that control the ground strategically, then it would be like the clockwork of a military operation as planes are coming in and planes are coming out or building manifests or confirming that everybody that goes on the plane are the right people. This was not a neo. This was run by the State Department. So instead of that, think a big strategic military operation, instead of think the airport became an embassy. Like in the movies, you're running the embassy and if you get in, you know, like you're safe and then they'll get you out. That's how they started treating H. Kaya, the airport in Kabul as an embassy. So the military just secured the perimeter of the embassy, the airport and anybody that got on the airport was able to get out. Except the military wasn't allowed to go outside of the airport. So all the people in the city of Kabul were stuck. That's where we had to come in. So we had to go out into Kabul and grab the people and then smuggle them past the Taliban to get them onto planes. And to answer your question, the that perimeter of the base where the gates, there's tens of thousands of people that were lining up here and they maybe walked a few days. So by the time they get there, they're dehydrated. They have nothing there. There's no food. There's no water. In the Taliban, if there's too many people, they'll just take a magazine and just dump it into the crowd to move them back or to like crowd control them. They'll just dump a magazine to a crowd of people. The women, they would float babies like you're at a baseball game with a beach ball. They would float the baby towards the gate and then hope in the hopes that a Marine or a soldier would reach down and grab the baby and bring it into safety. And when that didn't work, the moms would take the babies and they'd try to throw them over the walls. Well guess what's on either side of the wall? Constantina wire. There's fucking Constantina wire on both sides of this wall. So these babies would land in the wire and we're in the middle of moving hundreds of people at a time, like smuggling them past the Taliban and I'm stepping over a baby in water or there's like a small body that's on fire that was burnt alive by the Taliban. One of the teams as they went out in a cobble and they just missed it by seconds. They're going to go pick up this woman that was a journalist for one of the Afghan news organizations. But the Taliban got to her first. They pull up. The Taliban see these guys in the car. They drop her on the hood of the car and they execute her on the car as they just look at the dudes in the car. There's nothing that they can do. Just execute her. This was every day. So when I said a level of desperation I've never seen before, this is like no American, no American can imagine that type of desperation. And that was everywhere you looked. And how long were you there for while this was happening? Our ground team, there's myself and three other personnel recovery experts that we were there total for 10 days. And did it dissipate somewhat? No. No, it just got more desperate. So everybody that was watching on television, they saw curated, controlled information. It was way worse on the ground. So what looked like this, an assembly line of planes taking off and planes coming in, that is inside a controlled environment. That was on the base. If you go a thousand meters outside of the wire, it is just chaos, anarchy, apocalyptic level madness. Really, really, really total Taliban experience out there. Man. And so when you're leaving 10 days later, how are you feeling? One of the guys with us is codenamed Sea Spray. He didn't eat in those 10 days. He lost 20 something pounds in the 10 days that he was there. And he could nibble on a cracker and drink water just because he didn't have any enzymes left in his stomach to break anything down. When you're running out the wire to grab a family and come back in, you don't really have time to think about what you're stepping over, but you still see it. And that's the thing that tortures my mind is I still saw it all, but I didn't have the time to address it emotionally. Think about this dead body I'm stepping over because I'm really busy trying to get to this family. Then we get to this family and I confirm we had to be really judicious in how we confirmed who the people were. If I brought back one person that wasn't the right person to bring back, I would consider myself a failure in the whole entire mission. If I bring back one radical terrorist that's not escaping but trying to get to the United States and everything would be for naught. So we had a really deliberate Department of State, Department of Defense approved manifest that would go officially through the government. They would submit all of their paperwork. They would have digital versions of it. I would then give them a location on the ground where they would have to meet me. Then once I met up with them, they would have a far recognition signal that would be, not to give up the trade craft, but they'd have a way to let me know that that is the right person. Then would come face to face and then they'd have another thing like a secret word that they had to sneak into a sentence. That's a near recognition signal. Then they have to give me their documents. The documents have to be real and it has to be the right person. The same ones that were submitted. So cool, I got the right person. So come on, I got your family. Why are these other 40 people with you? They're like, oh, it's my cousin and her family. My brother and his family. It's like, they got to stay. You're coming with me and they're staying. Sorry. You can get in the car. You can't. Five seconds. Then, uh, by that time, usually the Taliban have spotted us and at the foot race to make it back into the wire before they catch us. And what happens to the people that get left behind? They are murdered or used either as pilots and their doctors and their engineers. They run the sewage system, they run the electrical plant. So they're trying to get out. But the Taliban want them to stay because all of the infrastructure that's built there are operated by people that were friendly to the Americans. So if they want their power plant to work, they have to have all the engineers that ran it so they don't want them to leave. They don't want the pilots to leave because their airport won't work. They don't have anybody to run their air traffic control. They don't have anybody to make sure the water purification system works properly. So they're trying to keep all those people there, but all those people know that they'll then be slaves to the Taliban. So they're trying to get out. And that's the tough Catch-22 position that we're in.