Members of the ‘Group of 100’ pose with 82nd Airborne Division soldiers after gaining access to the Kabul airport. Photo acquired by Coffee or Die Magazine.
For nearly 10 hours, 111 people — many of whom are American citizens or green card holders — were confined by the Taliban just outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, according to sources involved in the situation who requested anonymity due to the nature of their work as well as video acquired by Coffee or Die Magazine. They were released onto the airfield after tense backdoor negotiations with Taliban leaders on the ground.
On Saturday, Aug. 21, a group of private American citizens who had formed an ad-hoc nongovernment organization that goes by “Digital Dunkirk” brokered a deal between the Taliban and US Department of State to let approximately 100 people seeking to leave Afghanistan through an alternate entrance to the airfield after conditions at the main airport gates became destabilized and dangerous. This group of 100 followed directions to a building they were told they would be processed at, only to find it surrounded by Taliban militia. White buses provided by the State Department were waiting for them on the other side of the building.
The group of 100 was initially skeptical of approaching a Taliban checkpoint but were convinced to trust the negotiations. Soon after entering the building, Taliban fighters stripped almost everyone in the group of their phones and identification documents. Green card holders were told they would not be allowed through, and families were separated. This continues to be an issue for all green card holders trying to gain access to the airport.
The Taliban led the group of 100 to “a dark area between T-barriers and a gate,” according to a source involved in the situation. In the meantime, members of Digital Dunkirk negotiated on their behalf, fearful that the situation was devolving into a hostage scenario. US military units with counterterrorism and hostage rescue capabilities at the Kabul airport started monitoring the situation.
“It’s dark here, and people are under blankets and stuff,” one person in the group of 100 said via voice messages acquired by Coffee or Die Magazine.
The group of 100 remained in this area for more than six hours. Many feared they would be executed by the Taliban. At one point, the Taliban did return their documents and phones, but with no further instructions. It’s unclear if the Taliban were also confused about the situation and what to do with the group of 100.
As night turned to day on Sunday, Aug. 22, the group of 100 gained their bearing and found a way onto the airfield. They were initially stopped by Afghan soldiers who refused to let them pass, despite many in the group showing their American passports and green cards. Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division were alerted to the situation and arrived to escort the group the rest of the way.
One family member in the group of 100 sent a simple text message to those involved in the situation after realizing they were no longer in danger: “thank you so much and GOD BLESS AMERICA.”
Coffee or Die Magazine contacted CENTCOM via email for details on the group of 100 but did not receive a reply before publication.
Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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