Guest post by Dan O’Shea, CDR (SEAL) USN (ret)
“Asad”, an Afghan-American who returned to Kabul to get his extended family out, including parents, brother, sisters and their families, was one of hundreds my group of Afghan SOF vets was helping escape. His immediate family, wife & young boys all had blue passports and had been offered the chance to board a shuttle to the Kabul International Airport terminal, but he refused to leave the remainder of his family behind. This was the decision Asad was facing, and I believed he only had hours left to make the call. I texted him the following, “Asad, you need to make a decision about who in your family you can save at this point.” He replied without hesitation,
“Dan. My father raised me to become the man I am today. I’m not leaving him, my mother, brother, sisters or their children…Would you?”
His reply floored me and hit close to home as I immediately knew my response, “No, I wouldn’t leave my family either.” “Then, you and I are brothers, and you understand me. If we die, we all die together as a family.” As I stared at my phone, I realized Asad understood something our own leadership in the Beltway did not,
“Leave no one behind” is a promise, not a talking point.
This fundamental truth was a way of life, not only for my SOF brethren and me, but also for a tribal society like Afghanistan where family meant survival.
“No One Left Behind” is a basic pillar of the Warrior Ethos. “I will never leave a fallen comrade behind” is drilled into every service member from bootcamp through infantry training. For elite Special Operations Force (SOF) units like the US Army Rangers, Special Forces (SF) and Navy SEALs it becomes more than a creed you recite every day; it is a mantra you live by. Since the origin of the SEAL Teams in Vietnam, no Teammate has ever been left behind on a battlefield. The unwritten SOF truth is universal across the community and why the 75th Ranger Regiment led the recovery of the SEAL reconnaissance element of Lone Survivor Marcus Luttrell. Also, why Extortion 17, a Chinook helicopter full of Navy SEALs served as the quick reaction force for Army Rangers. Rangers and SEALs live and die by the axiom – Leave No Man Behind…
Kabul fell ten days after we abandoned Bagram Air Base, along with the catastrophic, but predictable, collapse of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). After pulling out all but a few hundred Marines guarding the American Embassy, the US military had to fly more than 6,000 troops back into Kabul’s International Airport to evacuate American Embassy personnel and American Citizens (AMCITs) remaining in Afghanistan. The Commander-in-Chief, declared on August 18, 2021, “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”
The White House painted a rosy picture the stating that the Taliban “have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort.” When the Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson, was directly confronted by reports that the Taliban were preventing AMCITs specifically from getting to the gates, he deflected and stuck to the official party line that the Taliban were not violating agreements made to evacuate our citizens and Afghan partners. For those of us with ground truth from hundreds of our Afghans in Kabul, we knew the façade was nothing more than a coordinated disinformation campaign. The reality on the ground was a dystopian disaster.
Every day, the Orwellian reality of the situation in Kabul was a living nightmare for anyone trying to escape Afghanistan’s descent to its Sharia past. The stranglehold was tightening as US troops, began their own retrograde and ceded more territory and access gates to 1000’s of Taliban fighters who had stormed into the nation’s capital like Caesar’s legions the week before. Paying $25,000 bribes at Taliban checkpoints allowing a bus filled with AMCITs, SIVs, pregnant women, and children to approach the long queue of vehicles was no guarantee of getting inside the wire.
On August 30th, the last C-17 military transport flight out of Kabul’s airport departed at 11:59 p.m. local time with the US Ambassador, along with the Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division. Less than two weeks after promising to stay until every AMCIT was “all out,” President Biden broke that promise. To a Commander-in-Chief who never donned a uniform, much less endure SEAL training or Ranger School, it was simply something a politician said without meaning it.
While the President broke his word to hundreds of Americans left stranded in Afghanistan, the US military evacuated more than 120,000 before the August 31st self-imposed deadline. The Commander-in-Chief lauded the, “extraordinary success of this mission” as “one of the biggest airlifts in history, with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and the ability to do it, and we did it today.” What the President and his military leadership who also bragged about the “logistical success” failed to acknowledge; was by what measure of performance (MOP) did they merit success? More than 60,000 of the Afghans who were processed through Doha, Qatar had no papers or proof that they were the actual Special Immigrant Visa designees being targeted by the Taliban. The administration evacuated less than one percent of the more than 80,000 Afghans who applied for the Special Immigrant Visa program. If the Taliban had been helping our AMCITs and SIVs then why were so many tens of thousands left behind? A success rate of 1% vetted passengers is no MOP to brag about unless 99% failure rate is your standard.
The entire Afghanistan evacuation was metaphorically a hostage rescue (HR) operation for tens of thousands of Afghans who believed in the promise America had made for the past twenty years to give the country a democratic future. Many of them risked their lives to serve in the ANSF and included young women attending the American University in Kabul who had gone to school their entire lives only now to become Taliban war brides.
An HR is a zero-fail mission, either you rescue the hostages, or you fail in your mission. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Staff (CJCS), the senior ranking member of the US military, who wears both the SF and Ranger Tab, knows that. Yet today, “woke” leadership within the DoD has been more concerned with understanding “white rage” within the ranks of the military than living up to, “Freeing the Oppressed.” Privately funded planes sat on a tarmac in Afghanistan for two weeks, due more to Department of State (DoS) bureaucratic interference than any Taliban bribes holding up these flights.
For the thousands of American veterans desperately trying to evacuate Afghan brothers-in-arms, White House misinformation, the DoS hindrance and DoD indifference is more than a source of frustration. For many of us, it calls into question what our service in Afghanistan meant if the leadership responsible for creating this chaos now wants to walk away from the consequences. Why are US Afghan veterans, many of whom left behind fallen brothers, blood, and belief in American exceptionalism the only ones honoring the promise to Afghans?
Now, we all know how the Vietnam generation felt when Saigon fell. We have watched Vietnam era vets struggle to cope with poorly executed policies and catastrophic decisions President(s) and senior military leaders make. They ordered us into the Graveyard of Empires, only to take a knee when they decided to abandon the Afghani people to the oppression of the Taliban and Sharia law. That will be their legacy, not ours.
Navy SEAL Commander Dan O’Shea is a retired multiple tour veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who has been assisting in the ongoing Afghanistan evacuation of Afghan partners. Only an hour before the Abbey Gate bombing that killed hundreds, including 13 American servicemen & women, Asad and his extended family made it safely inside the HKIA terminal and later boarded a flight to America.Attachments area.