Inside Task Force Pineapple: How we saved Americans and allies trapped in Afghanistan

·4 min read

In the week before America officially exited Afghanistan, a private effort organized from inside the United States cobbled together a first-of-its-kind virtual underground railroad that got more than 800 Americans, Afghan veterans, interpreters and VIPs out of the country.

I was honored to play a part an effort that became known as Task Force Pineapple, taken from the code word the first high-risk interpreter used to make it into the airport in Kabul on his way to freedom.

We built a citizen-liaison network to protect Americans and other dedicated allies being left behind during the chaotic and expedited withdrawal of the U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic presence from the country.

Americans need to help protect fellow citizens, especially those abroad

Everything we accomplished arose from the ability of those involved to leverage our collective knowledge of Afghanistan and good relationships built over many years with allies and friends around the world.

Why did we do it? Because, to a man and woman involved, we believed it was the right thing to do.

For generations, it meant something to be an American. It meant caring about virtues like honor and integrity and acting with a distinctive sense of pride and a standard of respect for who we are. Other countries knew not to mess with Americans overseas because we would expend everything in our power to protect them.

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A story I heard years ago illustrates the essence of this very American mindset: In 2003, a rifle company of a U.S. Marine Corps unit just outside Baghdad was ambushed. With a journalist for an international news agency filming things, a Navy corpsman serving alongside them as a medic turned and rushed through the fire, into the fight, and returned from the battlefield carrying an injured Marine to safety. He did this not once but three times. On his third run, carrying another injured man over his shoulder, the journalist called to him, saying in effect, Hey, mate, what’d you do that for? Didn’t you notice that wasn’t a Marine?

That newsman was right. That third wounded warrior wasn’t a U.S. Marine, he was an Iraqi soldier. As the story was told to me, the Navy corpsman’s response was simple but spoke volumes. “He was wounded," he said. “We’re Americans. That’s what we do.”

What we accomplished through Task Force Pineapple is very much an expression of that same mindset.

Calling myself an American means something. And it carries with it a responsibility – this especially applies for those in American government – to honor our promise to take care of the people who have taken care of us.

Jason Redman in Afghanistan, 2005.
Jason Redman in Afghanistan, 2005.

These amazing warriors and Afghan allies fought directly alongside us. They all knew they might die for the cause. Many of them did. Some had family members murdered in retribution. Today, as Afghanistan has fallen and is once again under the control of the Taliban, we are obliged to save them.

Our values as Americans help us serve abroad

We cannot do this alone. Task Force Pineapple is standing by to assist whatever efforts the U.S. government may be contemplating. We have the skills and the contacts to help honor America’s promise to bring these people back by facilitating safe passage and resettlement with plans and funding for their successful futures, reintegration and repurposing of their unique abilities the U.S. military and government organizations once relied upon.

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This is a matter of national honor. Our credibility is at stake. Leaving our friends in a state of extreme danger, failing to honor our commitments to their well-being as they made commitments to ours, will produce long-term damage not easily repaired.

Jason Redman in Afghanistan, 2005.
Jason Redman in Afghanistan, 2005.

The rest of the world is watching. Our allies, our competitors and especially our enemies. All are questioning our continuing commitment to those who help us in times of trouble.

I worry that U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities may be damaged for years to come. Why take the risk of helping America if America isn’t going to help you when the time comes. Our strategic influence is predicated upon the relationships we establish and maintain with people around the world who are willing to help us.

Why did I do any of the things I’ve recently done for the people trapped in Afghanistan? Because it was the right thing to do. We take care of the people who take care of us.

We’re Americans. It’s what we do. And that’s got to mean something.

Jason "Jay" Redman, who participated in Task Force Pineapple, is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, the author of “The Trident,” and founder and CEO of SOF Spoken Speaking, Courses and Coaching.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Task Force Pineapple saved Americans trapped in Afghanistan

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