Veteran US Special Forces working to rescue Afghans under cover of darkness

More than 700 Afghans have already been shepherded to safety during ‘Task Force Pineapple.’

 Taskforce Pineapple (photo credit: TASKFORCE PINEAPPLE)
Taskforce Pineapple
(photo credit: TASKFORCE PINEAPPLE)

As missions to rescue vulnerable Afghans from the country come to an end, a group of American military veterans is working around the clock to shepherd hundreds more to safety.

The all-volunteer group of Special Forces veterans, aid workers, intelligence and State Department officials has already saved more than 700 Afghans, including families, in three days, getting them past the Taliban and military checkpoints into Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The unofficial operation, which has been conducted with the US military, has been dubbed “Task Force Pineapple.”

Army Lt.-Col. Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret commander who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and who is leading the private rescue effort, told The Jerusalem Post the operation began as a frantic effort to rescue one former Afghan commando who had served with him.

Calling him Bismullah, Mann said the former commando was being actively targeted by the Taliban, who were texting death threats to him and his family since they knew he had worked with US Special Forces.

Taskforce Pineapple (credit: TASKFORCE PINEAPPLE)Taskforce Pineapple (credit: TASKFORCE PINEAPPLE)

“We worked with the indigenous people and built relationships – very, very deep relationships – with our partner Afghan Special Forces and their families,” he said. “Bismullah was a great warrior... even got shot through the face, and he kept on fighting.”

As the Taliban overran the country and then took control of the capital, “it became clear that he and his family wouldn’t get out of Kabul as it was falling to the Taliban,” Mann said.

That bothered him, he said, adding: “He’s a friend, and I thought to myself that, ‘Man, we made a promise. He saved so many US lives, and we aren’t going to honor our promise to him?’ [So,] I got on the phone and did what we Green Berets do. I thought we have to be his eyes. We have to use our networks to move him through the city and get him to the airport.”

Bismullah and his family of six were able to make it under cover of darkness and with dozens of covert movements to the safety of the airport. But they were unable to enter the gates until a State Department official told Mann to have him use the word “pineapple” to let guards know to let him and his family in.

“We became Task Force Pineapple after that,” Mann said. “We got our guy in – and only 18,000 left to go.”

As American troops were not moving outside the airport’s perimeter, Mann’s team came up with a ground team of “conductors” and “shepherds” and Afghan “passengers.” Using encrypted messages and working with a network of people on the ground, they were able to guide people to points where they could wait until they were called by “conductors.”

Once they reached the airport, they would hold up their smartphones with a graphic of yellow pineapples. With that, the Americans would let them in.

With the Americans and other nations winding down their rescue efforts, Mann said his network would continue to rescue at-risk Afghans for as long as they can.

“We lost a lot of our brothers and sisters, and we believe in our missions and in our Afghan partners,” he said.

But it’s not only Afghan soldiers and their families that Task Force Pineapple wants to rescue, Mann said.

“‘De Oppresso Liber – To Liberate the Oppressed’ is the motto of the Green Berets,” he said. “We decided not to focus only on our Special Forces partners, but [also] any high-risk Afghan like women, Supreme Court judges, nonprofit workers and more.”

Mann said they are working as volunteers and with nonprofits to rescue more Afghans and will continue to do so for the next six to 12 months.

“I want to give a voice to the voiceless – those who are at risk and have no one else,” he said. “This will be a heavy lift, and we are asking anyone who understands what it means to never leave a soldier behind to work with us.”

And that includes Israelis, Mann said.