Denver-Based Group 'Team America' Helping People Trapped in Afghanistan
DENVER (CBS4)- Each day brings more emails. More desperate stories of people and families trapped on the wrong side of the gates at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"Every day is a pretty horrible Schindler's list. We're deciding each day who's the highest likelihood of success," said Joe Saboe on his front porch in the Central Park neighborhood.
Saboe is a veteran of Iraq, a former captain in the U.S. Army who served in Mosul as an infantry officer and platoon leader of a rifle company. When the United States began its final pullout from Afghanistan, his brother in Phoenix was the first to call looking for help. He needed to help a friend get out of Afghanistan.
Saboe knows people. Enough to start an effort going where he soon saw the U.S. government and military falling behind. People weren't getting good information – or any that helped them get to an airport gate. So they created an email address for people to ask for help. Inquiries and pleas started and have not stopped. Joe took two weeks off work and started figuring what he'd need to assemble a team.
"I need interpreters, I need people that work in social services, I need all my military battle buddies and we're all going to build a cross-functional team together."
He split the groups, because some who need to get out, don't know what they need.
"You go to our battle captains who are going to get you out, or you go to our advocacy team which is going to try to work on your paperwork."
Military Times called to do an article and asked what he'd call them. Saboe answered with "Team America," thinking about the team he'd put together.
Just to see the need is disconcerting.
"We could have left without allowing this to happen. We could have withdrawn without allowing it to go down exactly like this."
He has not had a lot of time to think about the failures of the Biden Administration, other than Afghanistan has been poorly handled now and in the past.
"I would levy the same charge at every president that has preceded him in managing this conflict."
Quickly, with connections on the ground in Afghanistan, they were able to guide people. They have connected with over a thousand people inside the country through various forms of communication.
"So we do have a pretty good picture of Taliban activity on the ground. We have a pretty good understanding of how the Taliban tactics change day to day with the checkpoints. We've been advised on how to avoid them, how to navigate through them. Also where to go so they can get in safely. Navigate through the city with the information that we have."
They don't give directives but advice. Afghans, he's noted, are resilient and can and should make their own choices about where things look positive and where they look dangerous. On Thursday they backed out, telling people to move back from the airport after recognizing a potential threat. Most did, but some headed toward the Abbey Gate on the airport's south side. There one of the powerful explosions detonated- killing and maiming. The people being helped by Team America were far enough back that none of their injuries were serious. There were minor injuries like concussions, however.
Over 220 have now gotten inside the airport, for a ride out to safety and hopefully freedom.
"Everyone we get through, those girls have a chance to be educated, those people will go up free and those people will be able to maximize their potential and live here or in other countries. And every day that we forgo in terms of our timeline that we cede to the Taliban is 8,000 more people that we could have gotten out on flights."
But to get through, they have to have the documents they need. A few have visas or green cards, some were in the process of applying.
"Whether they completed their visa process is a factor. For some of them, they're only one step away. A final interview in the embassy. Which never happened because of the invasion of Taliban forces into Kabul. I think for some of them they were more steps away. And those cases are just harder and harder and harder and you're in the back of the line."
Getting past the Taliban has been an effort to outsmart them. Another great evacuation came to mind for Saboe, the British mass evacuation of British and French troops driven to the sea by the Germans at Dunkirk on the French coast by a flotilla that included many private British fishing boats. He and some of the other volunteers were talking about a digital Dunkirk.
"Every day we've just had to be really adaptive and clever and try to outsmart the obstacles and the opponents we face."
Soon after the bombings, they were back at work trying to get more people through. In their email inbox are hundreds more emails they want to get to. They could be one person or entire large families. Saboe and many of those involved have had little sleep and keep going.
"Everything is about lives through gates right now. Like that list is life."
You can email Team America at: email@example.com
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