I have been trying to get Aziz, the interpreter that I deployed with 8 times, out of Afghanistan for six years using the SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) program. Six years of paperwork. Six years of answering questions. Six years of failure.
So when President Joe Biden announced a full withdrawal of US Forces in Afghanistan I, like many military veterans, watched with anxiety and concern. There was no way the SIV Program, broken beyond repair, was going to suddenly begin working properly, and we needed to ensure our interpreters and their families got out safely. For me it was Aziz, who I have written about many times as “Bashir” for his protection, but there aren’t many Afghanistan veterans who didn’t have someone in this same position.
As a Force Recon Marine, I was privileged to represent the Marine Corps in what I believe is the premier special operations unit, on a JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) Task Force for eight consecutive
deployments to Afghanistan. During those deployments, Aziz was not only my “terp”, short for interpreter, who translated the local languages of Dari and Pashtun, but he was my teammate and my brother. I lived in his home, ate dinner with his family, played soccer with his kids, and traversed the mountains and towns of Afghanistan and Pakistan with him. Our goal was to set up operations targeted to capture or kill HVTs (High-Value Targets) of the Taliban Terrorist Regime who sought to rule the Afghan people and terrorize the western world through violence driven by an extreme religious ideology of Jihadism. Over the years serving together, Aziz proved his loyalty to us, as his teammates, to America, and solidified his stand against terrorism.
I can tell dozens of stories of his heroism, but one that comes to mind was when four SEAL team members of DEVGRU found themselves stuck in a Taliban-infested area while on a Reconnaissance and Surveillance mission. The SEALs needed an unconventional extraction to avoid compromising their mission and risking the lives of themselves and other US Servicemembers, it was Aziz who quickly came up with a plan we trusted. Aziz personally drove me and two other team members in the middle of the night, hours into enemy territory, to clandestinely extract the SEALs, save lives and protect the integrity of a very critical operation. He did this and many other operations like it with no concern for his safety. He only cared about the team and our mission. He saved my life on at least three occasions and the lives of my friends more than a handful of times.
In 2018, when my oldest son Hunter deployed to Afghanistan, I had a hard time as a father emotionally because of all I know about war. When Aziz heard he was there he sent me a message, “tell Hunter Uncle Aziz has him if he needs anything.” It warmed my heart and helped with my peace of mind. It was because of my deep personal relationship over all these years that I felt an obligation to get Aziz and his family out of Afghanistan.
When President Biden announced our departure, the Taliban identified Aziz and many others who worked with the US military and began to make death threats to kill him and his family. Many were killed. One of Aziz’s friends was pulled over just south of Kabul at a Taliban checkpoint. He was then shot, pulled from his car, and immediately beheaded.
I had to get Aziz out, so I started a Plan A and a Plan B for extraction. Plan A solicited the help of some of my friends in Congress, like Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler to help expedite Aziz’s SIV package with a Congressional inquiry. I needed help with the State Department’s broken process that seemed to pander to applicants more than processing visas. Plan B was to do it on my own. My former teammate, Dan Stinson
and I met and built an operational plan to legally get Aziz and his family out of Afghanistan utilizing the business visa process in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). It was a very expensive plan, but worth it, and we had the resources, know-how, and support. But time ran out when Afghanistan completely collapsed after we abandoned military posts throughout the country.
The Afghan people, our 10,000 American citizens, and 80,000 Afghan allies like Aziz all found themselves trapped in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Every single life was in danger and the chaos, panic, and
failure by the US Government to act effectively, created a hopeless situation. Dan and I hit the gas. We had to move. But as we did so, we found other veterans in similar endeavors. As a collective, we were
powerful. And the mission grew. We not only had to go all in to help as many as we could, but we had to help unify these efforts to be effective and successful at rescuing as many of these vulnerable people as we could. In a matter of days, we were able to build a coalition of two non-profits (Mighty Oaks Foundation and the Independence Fund), partnering with other NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) and my network of elite veterans formed Task Force 6:8, named from the Isaiah 6:8 scripture “Here am I, send me."
The men on our Task Force were a who’s who of people who could get things done Dan Stinson, Hunter
Robichaux, Joe Robert, Nick Palmisciano, Tim Kennedy and a host of others less well known, but with incredible skill and bravery. I cannot mention them yet, but they deserve so much credit and gratitude.
Two of our team members had a personal relationship with the UAE royal government and we were able to quickly come into an agreement to work together and have access to UAE military support and aircraft to move 4,100 evacuees to their humanitarian center so long as we worked to move them out of UAE in a timely manner upon the completion of the operation. With a forward operations location, I hopped on a plane with my son Hunter, who is also a US Marine Afghanistan veteran, to get to the UAE and get to work.
We quickly moved people in place to launch an operation into Afghanistan to execute a Precision Rescue Operation using both charter and UAE military aircraft as phase one of our operation that was named Operation Chivalrous Knight.
Simultaneously, Sarah Verardo, of The Independence Fund, helped set up a JOCs (Joint Operations Center)
in the U.S. and recruited team members to meet in UAE/ Abu Dhabi military base and put an on the ground coordinator and personal recovery team at HKIA (Hamid Karzai International Airport) to move off-site to recover and extract target packages.
Word spread in the veteran community. Our US JOC received over 29,000 requests for support. Sarah and her team built, categorized, and triaged rosters in groups of AMCITs (American citizens), SIVs, interpreters, Orphans, Widows, Christians facing persecution, and Afghan Special Forces Commandos. The UAE JOC received these rosters, built rescue target packages, and coordinated with our HKIA ground team and targets for link ups using a 7-point authentication system for bone fides to be moved onto HKIA and staged for extraction in a holding area.
The movements went through ratlines we built or were provided by our liaisons. Additionally, cooperation with the US Military onto HKIA allowed us to stage and further vet them.
We were extremely precise with who we got and how we got them. The UAE JOC and our on the ground coordinator scheduled UAE MilAir (Military Aircraft) and charter flights to move our evacuees to Abu Dhabi UAE Humanitarian Center. Because of our on the ground presence and military relationships we were able to assist the US Military with landing commercial charter aircraft for NGO humanitarian aid and evacuation. When we arrived, they were turning them away because it was pure chaos. Our UAE JOC worked with US CENTCOM (Central Command) as the single point liaison for commercial charter air onto HKIA. Due to our efficiency, we were given our own ramp and hangar.
While we were initially allowed to bring 4,100 to the UAE. That sounded like a lot when we started, but this group of overachievers got pretty good at this very quickly and opted for “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” mantra. The end result was 8,911 saved from Afghanistan directly into UAE. Additionally, we assisted in manifesting and acquiring targets for the US State Department that we evacuated to other countries of over 3,000 personnel, for a total of 12,000 evacuees.
During the first week of operations, it was all numbers; 80,000 allies stranded, 10,000 Americans, we located a group of 300 orphans to move, 29 Americans are hiding in this house, 5 in that one. In the end the number that makes us happy is 12,000. As the dust cleared and I was finally able to spend real time in the humanitarian center, everything came to life. Each one of those 12,000 has a face and a story. Kids with dolls playing, families embracing one another in relief and joy, while others staring off in shock. A thirteen-year-old boy whose parents didn’t make it through the gates that we called on my cell phone. These are people that now have a chance for hope.
After ten straight days with only 2-3 hours of sleep a night, it was all worth it and I was full of joy and smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. However, to me personally it is hard to top that we got Aziz, his wife, and his six children out safely. But not before he assisted in helping us save others on his way out. That’s the Aziz I know and love.
When we reunited, we hugged and both cried, we talked, and his kids called me “Uncle Chad.” I cried some more. I can’t wait to have him home in Texas soon to continue forward together in an unbreakable bond that began as friends and teammates in the mountains and towns of Afghanistan. Now the real work begins as we see the mission through.
These people lost everything and our team at Save Our Allies feel a moral obligation to ensure each and every one we got finds a new home, a new hope and a new beginning through a process that treats them with dignity, love and respect.