When the US plan to evacuate the Americans and Afghan allies began to fail with the entry of the Taliban into the capital, Kabul, in mid-August, an American businessman formed a paramilitary unit to evacuate Afghan citizens who felt abandoned in the last days of the withdrawal of US forces.
Zach van Mitter, a stock investor and owner of a defense manufacturing company from Florida, says in an interview with Al-Sharq that his team, which included a group of veterans, diplomats and wealthy donors, managed to evacuate 5,000 people from Afghanistan over the course of two weeks.
The efforts of Zach van Metz and his team were highly praised by the American media, and the Wall Street Journal described it as “the most successful special operation known to evacuate Afghan citizens,” noting that Zak van Metz’s team carried out the rescue operations in a “paramilitary” manner.
Van Mitter denied that behind the use of his time and money in the evacuation mission there were intentions to enter the political life, noting that “the success of the mission came because it remained away from the media and due to the cooperation between a diverse team of diplomats, former military figures and people who know Afghanistan well.”
It all started with a phone call Zack van Metter received from a former US Army captain who works with him at the Defense Manufacturing Company, Sean.
“Sean called me and asked if I would like to help save 3,500 orphans,” Van Mitter told Al-Sharq, adding that he had agreed to this without knowing the details of the matter.
He continued, “Sean told me that they are (orphans) in Afghanistan (…) I was hesitant because I did not know the enormity of the situation, but I said yes.”
Soon, rescue operations began with the help of former generals, volunteers and NGOs, who together formed a working cell.
Van Mitter said he rented a hall at the historic Willard Hotel in Washington, where the cell was meeting to plan evacuations, and is still continuing to try to get the rest and secure permanent accommodation for the evacuees.
While the task of part of the team in Washington was to plan and coordinate with governments, part of the team – mainly war veterans – was deployed to Afghanistan in order to oversee the operations of bringing Afghans to the airport prior to their deportation.
Van Mitter pointed out that his team was able to “evacuate 5,000 people from Afghanistan to Abu Dhabi (the capital of the United Arab Emirates) within two weeks.”
“It wasn’t as easy as going into Afghanistan and asking to put people on planes. It required coordinating with our (US) government and the UAE government and finding a place to take people, negotiating with other governments to take them in,” explains van Mitter.
The Wall Street Journal confirmed that it had seen e-mails of Van Mitter’s conversations with a military official in the United Arab Emirates, which included Abu Dhabi’s agreement to accept Afghan refugees. The newspaper pointed out that the Abu Dhabi government also agreed to send a C-17 military transport plane and a number of soldiers, in order to complete the evacuation process.
Van Mitter explained to “Al-Sharq” that his team, which was in Afghanistan, “set up on the commercial side of Hamid Karzai Airport” in Kabul, adding that he “was taking the information we were getting from several non-governmental organizations and charities” about the names of Afghans who should Their deportation and whereabouts, as well as their phone numbers.
He continued, “We were passing this information on to our men at Kabul airport, who would call them and agree with them on the timing of attendance at the airport gate, and in some cases they would ask them to bring their families to a specific place (away from the airport) and then guide them to the meeting point.”
The American businessman pointed out that the deportations began “by bringing groups of 10 or 12 people, but with time we became more organized, until we reached a stage where we were deporting 300 people at the same time.”
In this context, Van Mitter revealed the extent of the obstruction represented by the Taliban in the evacuation operations, contrary to all statements by the senior US administration regarding its facilitation of deportations during the last days before the date of the withdrawal of US forces, which was set on August 31.
“The Taliban (officials) were doing everything they could to make the evacuations more difficult. They were closing one gate and opening another, preventing buses from reaching the airport, and changing the rules regarding documents required to allow passage to the airport,” Van Mitter said.
He continued, “They (Taliban officials) were doing their best to prevent people from leaving,” noting that the Taliban prevented a 10-year-old girl with an American passport from entering the airport, even though she was with her family and accompanied by the evacuation team.
He explained that his team also tried to get the girl out across the land border with Pakistan, but the Taliban did not allow it. He said, “We cannot take it out now, because the policy of the US government does not allow us to negotiate with the Taliban. So we have to wait for the US State Department to make a decision (recognizing) the Taliban government.”
The United States concluded a “secret agreement” with the Taliban, to escort Americans to the gates of Kabul Airport, while they were trying to flee Afghanistan, according to what was revealed by CNN.
The American network quoted two officials in the US Department of Defense (Pentagon), as saying that the army negotiated a “secret arrangement” with the Taliban, which resulted in elements of the movement escorting groups of Americans, to the gates of Kabul Airport.
One of the officials told US special operations forces had set up a “secret gate” at the airport, and “contact centers” to guide Americans through the evacuation process.
The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the American citizens were notified by various messages to gather at predetermined “meeting points” near the airport, where Taliban elements would gather them, check their identity papers, and take them a short distance to a gate guarded by American forces, who were standing on the close, in order to let them in amid huge crowds of Afghans trying to escape.
It is not clear whether the Taliban, who were checking identity papers during these efforts, expelled any Americans. And there were several reports that some Americans with passports and holders of a US green card (green card), were turned away from Taliban checkpoints near the airport.
And US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the US administration had accomplished “the largest evacuation operation in the history of the United States,” noting that “about 6000 Americans and more than 123,000 civilians of other nationalities have been evacuated from Afghanistan.”
However, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken acknowledged that Washington had been unable to evacuate between 200 and 100 Americans, as well as thousands of Afghans on US visas.
The New York Times said that US President Joe Biden’s “miscalculation and failure” led to the chaos that followed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The newspaper pointed to interviews it conducted with key participants in the final days of the war, showing “a series of miscalculation and failure of Biden’s calculations”, that withdrawing American soldiers before evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies, would lead to an orderly withdrawal.
She reported that Biden administration officials had more than 50 meetings about embassy security and evacuations, and consistently believed they had plenty of time, but planning failed to prevent chaos when the Taliban captured Kabul within a few days. She said the administration changed course from its original plan, “but it was too late.”