Nearly four months after the United States military left Kabul at the end of August, retired Green Beret Scott Mann is still getting calls every day about vulnerable Afghans desperately trying to escape the Taliban’s brutal regime.
Mann is the founder of Task Force Pineapple, a group of retired special forces veterans and others who made headlines by stepping up to help Afghans with targets on their backs to safety. Using an intricate network, Mann and others worked as ‘shepherds’ to establish roadmaps for desperate people and their families and then guide them to safety through a series of checkpoints solely relying on remote communication.
It’s not the only rescue team of its kind, but Task Force Pineapple got its nickname because Afghans fleeing to Hamid Karzai International Airport during the evacuation would show Western forces a picture of a pineapple on their phone to signify they were being helped by the elite group.
Mann told DailyMail.com that Pineapple is currently working with nonprofits like Operation Recovery to help as many as 6,000 people – and estimated that with other parallel efforts, that number is likely significantly higher.
Mann’s fellow former Green Beret Zac Lois, a shepherd with Operation Recovery who’s been helping rescue Afghans since August, said the Afghans in hiding were like ‘sitting ducks in safe houses.’
Meanwhile the volunteers trying to help them are tired, traumatized and feel largely left alone by the Biden administration.
Retired Green Beret Zac Lois, one of the leaders of Operation Recovery, said the Afghans they’re trying to help are ‘sitting ducks’ in safe houses like these
These twins were born on Christmas day to a mother hiding in safe houses. Their father successfully managed to get on an evacuation flight from Kabul in August
‘We’re not going away. We’re going to find ways to just continue to do what the government should be doing until they do it,’ Mann said. ‘But the problem is, it’s also causing a lot of harm – a lot of trauma, not just on the Afghans but the Americans as well. The volunteers are really starting to run low on funds. They’re starting to experience severe mental health issues.’
He later added, ‘There has been such an egregious shift of responsibility from the institutional levels of power to these volunteer groups.’
Since the end of August, nearly 75,000 vulnerable Afghans have been evacuated to the United States and 3,000 more were at third-party safe haven countries overseas, according to the State Department’s latest update earlier this month.
The State Department also said it’s ‘directly assisted’ 479 Americans and 450 green card holders and their families in leaving Afghanistan since the withdrawal ended on August 31.
Mann said some of the 6,000 people he’s linked to helping are American green card holders ‘who have not been contacted that want to get out.’
He’s part of a small coalition that includes people in ‘regular contact’ with the State Department and Pentagon about the ongoing rescue efforts, Mann said, but the results have been minimal compared to how many people are left.
‘Frankly, I think there’s a growing concern, particularly those in the Special Operations community that like the voices of our Afghan partners, are not being heard or considered to the level that they need to be,’ he said, calling for ‘broader engagement’ from the Biden administration and military leaders.
Lois shared another photo of a baby born in a safe house to an Afghan Special Forces family. He estimated that more than 20 babies have been born to Afghans in hiding since the US evacuation
The retired lieutenant colonel said he received a text from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley regarding his efforts in September. Milley had invited him to the Pentagon to discuss a ‘private-public task force’ to aid in the continuing evacuations.
Mann was ‘hopeful at first’ but felt very little came from that conversation.
‘If the needle had moved even a little, I would be prone to say, yeah, it – there was some work [done], but it didn’t. You know, it just really didn’t. It was a lot of talk – and not even a lot of talk,’ he said.
Asked if Milley reached out to him again or took responsibility, Mann said it’s ‘been quiet.’
Lois said the planned partnership ‘never occurred.’
‘We went down to [Washington, D.C.]. We met with all the individuals from the different agencies, specifically the Department of State, and they said, “Hey, we’re going to put together a fusion cell.” And that has never been the case,’ he said, adding: ‘I feel like they’re just – they’re just kicking this can down the road.’
DailyMail.com has reached out to the Joint Chiefs’ office but has yet to hear back.
Meanwhile the winter months have forced Task Force Pineapple and Operation Recovery to pause on their rescue efforts and instead focus on mental health counseling and other ways to sustain those Afghans still hiding in safehouses until they can resume in the springtime.
‘It’s really about hunkering down by the winter and emerging in the spring and reassessing the options that are there. This is going to be a long game,’ Mann said.
Lt. Colonel Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret, founded Task Force Pineapple to help vulnerable Afghans such as those with connections to the US military escape from Taliban rule
Lois said the stop was forced by a lack of State Department flights out of the country.
‘There is a bit of a pause right now because there are no flights flying out of – there are no Department of State flights flying out of Afghanistan right now, because of an issue between Qatar and the Taliban. So that’s where a lot of the government flights are shut down right now,’ he said.
Until then they’ve aided in setting up care such as remote trauma intervention sessions using Zoom.
‘Normally women in those situations are not eating, so they give them basic nutrition information to help them kind of get to a place where they can do diaphragmatic breathing, get down to that parasympathetic state and actually process their situation – and you know, make it through the winter,’ he explained.
Mann said Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley reached out to him about the White House’s announced public-private partnership but that no help materialized from it
Another new element to factor in, Mann said, is a ‘baby boom.’
He estimated that anywhere between eight and 10 infants were born in safe houses so far, and predicted more will come before the winter is done. Lois’ estimate is even higher – ‘over 20 for sure.’
Lois shared images of twins born on Christmas Day, to an Afghan mother who had been hiding until she could join her husband in the United States. The couple and their children had attempted to evacuate in August but she and two children were injured in the chaos at the crowded gate and forced to turn back.
Another baby was born in a safe house to the family of an Afghan Special Forces member, with the help of a midwife and interpreter via phone from the US.
In addition to women and Special Immigrant Visa applicants, Task Force Pineapple and other organizations are working to help vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community and former Afghan commandos, who were trained by the US military but have no clear bureaucratic path to escape.
‘Not only is it a moral imperative’ to help Afghan military veterans escape, Mann said, but their lack of safety is also a ‘national security risk.’
‘As a career Green Beret, I have to believe that our leadership system is rotten to the core that they can allow that to happen,’ he said.
As for the group he founded, Task Force Pineapple, Mann said it is still working with nonprofits helping vulnerable Afghans on a day-to-day basis but has since shifted focus to a larger-scale advocacy campaign.
They’re continuing to lobby members of Congress for support in pressuring the Biden administration to help. If not, Mann predicts the situation for thousands of at-risk Afghans will be ‘catastrophic’ when evacuations resume in the spring.
With the Taliban growing more violent and adding checkpoints near Kabul’s airport, an all-volunteer group of American veterans of the Afghan war launched a daring mission in August dubbed the ‘Pineapple Express’ to shepherd hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety
‘These volunteer groups, they’re going to collapse under the weight and we’re going to see, I’m afraid, some level of harm come to them too. And so I think we’re heading off a cliff,’ he said. ‘If we don’t get with a sense of urgency, some accountability and assistance from the US government, I think we’re going to see some catastrophic stuff happen in the spring.’
He later added, ‘You’ve got some of the most at-risk people in Afghanistan in safe houses right now in refuge, you know, counting on the goodwill of the American people in the private sector. Well, what happens when that money runs out?’
Among their allies in Congress right now is Republican Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida, a retired Green Beret himself – the first to serve at the US Capitol.
He echoed his fellow veterans’ concerns about the State Department’s role in the evacuation, calling them ‘as much of a hindrance as they have been a help.’
‘I talk to a number of these groups and try to help them… and every one of them has the very strong sense that the State Department just wants this to go away – minus American citizens, and now some, like, green card holders and legal permanent residents.’
Florida Rep. Mike Waltz, a retired Green Beret himself, has been helping Task Force Pineapple, Operation Recovery and the numerous other groups aiding vulnerable Afghans
He called on the Biden administration to step up and aid in an increasingly ‘dire situation.’
‘These groups are running out of energy. The veterans, many of them have quit their jobs, exhausted their savings, they’re running out of funding. Most of the folks they’re supporting are getting, you know, shuffled around from safe house to safe house in the middle of winter in Afghanistan with the economy collapsing. It’s a really dire situation, and what I don’t think – what the administration doesn’t fully appreciate, is we’re not going to let this go,’ Waltz said.
Waltz is championing these rescue groups’ efforts in Congress by pursuing ways Afghan military members can get out of the country, and called on the State Department to expand its current visa categories for vulnerable Afghans to include the former government’s elite forces.
‘Another line of effort that we’re pursuing, that I will pursue this year in the defense bill, for example – many of the pilots, the Afghan pilots that were evacuated and other folks with exceptional skills, want to join the US military,’ he said.
The Florida lawmaker called for those highly-trained service members who chose to enlist in the US military to then get a pathway to citizenship.
‘That’s something that we’re pushing on, and we’ll push on this next defense bill,’ he said.