A private operation run out of a hotel conference room has helped evacuate approximately 5,000 Afghan refugees

·1 min read
Willard Intercontinental Hotel.
Willard Intercontinental Hotel. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

A coalition of war veterans, Afghan diplomats, wealthy donors, defense contractors, nonprofit workers, and off-duty U.S. officials — in an "on-the-fly" effort run out of a conference room at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C. — have helped evacuate approximately 5,000 refugees from Afghanistan in the past two weeks, The Wall Street Journal reports. The self-named "Commercial Task Force" is now "one of the most successful known private" efforts to rescue those on the ground, looking to escape.

"This is not who we are as a people," said Jim Linder, a retired general and task force member, referencing the at-large evacuation effort. As president of Tenax Aerospace, Linder's connections "helped the group charter planes for rescue flights," the Journal writes.

At the task force's helm is Zach Van Meter, a private-equity investor "spurred to action" at the urging of his business associate, a former U.S. Army commando, per the Journal. Eager to help, Van Meter rented out the hotel's Peacock Lounge and set up shop. His group has now negotiated refugee spots with the United Arab Emirates and is talking with officials from Albania, Ukaine, and other countries.

With evacuation routes closing, the "volunteers are looking at land routes and possible airlifts from smaller cities, as well as countries willing to host those Afghans who have already escaped," writes the Journal. At 3 a.m. on Sunday, the last of them left the lounge "for good and moved their work elsewhere."

"We're not giving up," said Emily King, a former Pentagon adviser. "We'll keep pivoting to find a way." Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

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