WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — With just a handful of days left until all U.S. military personnel are to pull out of Afghanistan, private citizens are stepping in to help rescue Afghan residents and Americans trapped in the country.
State Sen. Zach Nunn, a Republican running for Congress in Iowa's 3rd District, served in Afghanistan and still had contacts in the area when he saw images of fear and concern among Americans and Afghans earlier this month.
"We felt we had a moral obligation to be able to help these individuals who had our back for two decades by having their back today," Nunn told Local 5.
Nunn has helped coordinate a mission involving former Navy SEALs, Rangers, and Joint Special Operations teams, along with other ex-military personnel, flying into Afghanistan to rescue those who are far away from the capital of Kabul.
"Several of them are in provinces that are hundreds of miles away, that are not going to be able to get access without abandoning their families," Nunn said.
The mission is operated and funded by private citizens, not the U.S. government.
The State Department currently has a travel advisory on Afghanistan, urging Americans that traveling to Afghanistan is dangerous.
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Nunn said those on this private mission understand the risks.
"These are private individuals doing it at great personal risk to themselves ... they feel this is the right thing to do," Nunn said.
The group coordinating the mission has been working through last weekend to take those in Afghanistan into neighboring countries like Uzbekistan. On Tuesday, the mission successfully rescued its first group.
A U.S. Department of State spokesperson would not confirm if they are aware of the group's mission.
In an emailed statement, the agency said in part:
"The outpouring of care from Americans seeking to help, especially from the Afghan American community, is incredible. Local resettlement agencies, and other non-governmental organizations working with refugees and immigrants, will be best placed to harness this force as people make it through their initial processing and begin their new lives in America."
Nunn told Local 5 the logistics of such an operation are complicated.
"It's not as easy as just getting on a small jet," Nunn said. "Small jets have shorter legs, meaning they need to refuel in other countries. Some are friendly, but some are pretty hostile."
The network of help has expanded across the globe since the organization began the mission last week, according to Nunn.
"A number of people in small networks reached out to their networks, and it has continued to expand," he said. "Some people wrote checks for jet fuel, some people provided pilots, some people provided aircraft."
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