After writing a riveting first-person account from Kabul for Coffee or Die Magazine, contributing writer and former Army Ranger Jariko Denman appeared on Good Morning America Friday, Aug. 27, to describe his harrowing experience at the gates of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan.
He was traveling with Ark Salus, a group that was attempting to gather Afghan refugees from around Kabul prior to the US pullout and arrived in Kabul from Doha, Qatar.
Denman has been in contact with people who responded to the bombing attack that took the lives of 13 service members, saying “it was just carnage.”
Denman was at the Abbey Gate, where the explosion hit, just hours before the bombing. “There were multiple times where we had to close the gate to activity and due to these same threats that would have resulted in the same result here,” Denman said.
Outside the gates, Denman said the conditions were the worst he’d ever seen. Denman deployed to combat 15 times in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2012 during his time in service. His total combat experience amounts to 54 months with the Joint Special Operations Task Force. Denman described the scenes of families carrying toddlers and babies trying to get to the gates and to US service members to get through as “a mosh pit on steroids.”
“Six, seven hundred meters long of compacted human beings trying to get to one little chokepoint,” he said. “It was terrible.”
Denman said the chaos involved more people than the assets the US provided could deal with, and that US troops were pushing themselves beyond breaking.
“In 20 years, I never saw an operating force more sleep-deprived or just working more than these Marines and other airmen and soldiers that were on the ground,” he said.
Denman’s dispatch for Coffee or Die was widely shared last week, and he will be on several national media outlets to discuss it in the coming days. The story was also picked up by the New York Post after running on Coffee or Die, being featured on the paper’s front page.
The vulnerabilities at the gate, Denman said, were obvious to him.
“I couldn’t speak to the intel situation enough to say if it was vulnerable, but I will say the way we were forced to expose ourselves to get our people in made us very much vulnerable to it,” he said.
Denman said that, in a combat zone, forces need standoff from potential threats, but that was not possible at HKIA.
“In order for us to close the gap and distance in order to communicate with these people and find out who should and shouldn’t be coming through that gate, you had to close that distance and assume a ton of risk,” he said. “With the sheer numbers of people coming in, we didn’t have the time to do those different steps in security of walking up, talk to them, search them, and do all those things. It was just, you know, mob of [7,000] or 8,000 people arm’s distance away.”
Denman has hope that people with the proper paperwork will be able to get out in time for the Aug. 31 deadline, but if they don’t, he believes Americans will keep trying to reach them, Denman said.
“Just seeing the way that our community flexed and was just learning on the fly and getting these people out from a situation that none of us had ever seen before, I think that the change in the operating environment of that airport being closed is not going to slow us down,” he said. “I think that we’re going to continue to find ways of getting people out. This is very much not over on the 31st.”