Book Review: ‘Operation Pineapple Express’

 

I just finished reading Operation Pineapple Express by LTC(R) Scott Mann. By its own account:

An edge-of-your-seat thriller about a group of retired Green Berets who come together to save a former comrade—and 500 other Afghans—being targeted by the Taliban in the chaos of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I found it to be a good, if not great, read. LTC(R) Mann, once again, shines a light on the bonds forged in warfare, particularly with our host nation counterparts, and the scars left behind. All of this is wrapped in the grotesque fiasco that was the US pull-out of Afghanistan. In my overactive imagination, I picture the Biden administration waking up with a hangover and someone (Milley?) pulling a wadded-up bar napkin out of his pocket, unraveling it to discover a sketch of how to pull out of Afghanistan. Yeah…let’s do this

The book is a quick read with chapters broken out chronologically by dates and times from different perspectives of the Americans involved and their Afghan counterparts. This starts with the initial idea of assisting Afghans out of the country via airlift from Kabul International Airport (known as Hamid Karzai International Airport from 2014 to 2021 – HKIA) and escalating to what ultimately became known as the Pineapple Express, an informal apparatus that assisted roughly 600 people out of HKIA. This pipeline consisted of retired and active SOF guys (mostly Green Berets), some conventional active duty, and some Other Governmental Agencies coming together to honor our commitments and get their host nation counterparts out of Afghanistan because the US either wouldn’t, couldn’t, or just plain didn’t care.

At first, this began with Mann as he maintained contact with his counterpart after he left country.  In many cases, the lines of communication never close after having fought alongside of these brave, motivated warriors resulting in bonds of brotherhood.  These Afghan men and women loved their country and saw goodness in freer society, but when the US pulled out, they saw only death coming for them and their families.  From Mann’s initial effort to get his man out, the pipeline grew as many in the community wanted to get their people and families out as well.  To be clear this urge to get counterparts out was not just a humanitarian effort but a moral imperative as most were being actively hunted by the Taliban due to their unwavering allegiance to the US and its objectives.  Beyond being personal, security issues loomed as well.  If these guys got rolled up by the Taliban, they could divulge how USSOF operated, informing Chinese or Russians in conjunction with the Taliban.

The moral imperative driving this effort reignited nightmare scenarios for the families of the SOF veterans involved.  This brought the war back front and center into their lives.  Many of these people not sleeping, not bathing, and on their phones 24/7.  Spouses expressed that it took years to get the war out of their heads just to be pulled back in by this crisis of conscience and morality.

I’d be remiss if I did not mention the book’s view of the experience of the Afghans involved with the Pineapple Express.  Hellish does not do it justice.  The hordes of people actually trampling people to death outside the gates of HKIA and the Taliban checkpoints en route to HKIA doling out beatings using sticks and cables is just a taste.  And the final leg requiring one to walk in a raw sewage canal as you carried your kids to what you hope is safety.

Lastly, the book wraps up with the question, “what is our responsibility to our host nation counterparts?”  Most, if not all, the leadership seemingly not caring and morally failing.  Let me be clear: I have no issues with pulling out of Afghanistan.  There is an argument that the US could have stayed in Afghanistan indefinitely in and around Bagram, leveraging a strategic advantage globally with a massive, defendable, distal airfield within striking distance of a lot of territory — but that’s not my point here.

My issue is the way we pulled out.  What initially and continues to really bother me is that no one resigned in light of this debacle.  As a lifetime soldier, I understand following orders.  In this case, once this clearly political decision was levied, I believe true leaders would have stayed only in allegiance to those adjacent and subordinate to them doing the best they could given the obscene circumstances.  And once it was over, they should have gone to their commanders and said “that was [redacted] and I am out.”  I am still amazed not one person in any high-level position did this.  CJCS, SECDEF, Service Secretaries, and high-level commanders – not one.  It further solidifies my lack of confidence in the military and particularly in the SOF leadership.

In the end – it’s worth reading a personal and poignant account of people who cared beyond a bureaucratic or political level.  And cared enough to take action.

Published in Military
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  1. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    Thanks for sharing @dajoho. Makes me miss BossMongo, but also feel encouraged that his spirit lives on!

    • #1
  2. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    dajoho: What initially and continues to really bother me is that no one resigned in light of this debacle.  As a lifetime soldier I understand following orders.  In this case once this clearly political decision was levied I believe true leaders would have stayed only in allegiance to those adjacent and subordinate to them doing the best they could given the obscene circumstances.  And once it was over, should have gone to their commanders and said “that was [REDACTED] and I am out.”  I am still amazed not one person in any high-level position did this.  CJCS, SECDEF, Service Secretaries, and high-level commanders – not one.  It furthers solidifies my lack of confidence in the military and particularly in the SOF leadership. 

    I heard a theory a few months ago on a forgotten podcast episode that if true would make leadership look even worse. The thought was Obama and Trump wanted to leave Afghanistan but the military talked them out of it. Biden got in and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Therefore, the military said fine, we’ll do it your way so the administration would come off looking bad. Doesn’t make sense because the military looked bad too and people died.

    In 2013, I was deployed as part of AFCENT’s strategy division. Even though Afghanistan had its own staff supporting just them, for a while, I was put on a team to look at ways to leave since Obama wanted us out. We started studying the Soviet withdrawal, etc. and then were told the Afghanistan staff was handling it. Somebody was thinking about withdrawal plans eight years in advance but they either didn’t get developed or followed.

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    A great book review, thank you.

    To be clear this urge to get counterparts out was not just a humanitarian effort but a moral imperative as most were being actively hunted by the Taliban due to their unwavering allegiance to the US and it’s objectives.

    Loyalty and honor as displayed by those involved with the Pineapple Express is not a common virtue inside the Beltway.

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    If Austin and Milley lacked the honor to walk out, then they should have been pushed. With a boot tip.

    • #4
  5. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Thanks for sharing @ dajoho. Makes me miss BossMongo, but also feel encouraged that his spirit lives on!

    Thanks @columbo – Boss would have been livid about this.  And frankly I stay on here and TRY to post occasionally in support of that very spirit!  

    • #5
  6. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    @godlovingwoman … you have been a direct participant in this real story of betrayal and cowardice.

    • #6
  7. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    dajoho: What initially and continues to really bother me is that no one resigned in light of this debacle. As a lifetime soldier I understand following orders. In this case once this clearly political decision was levied I believe true leaders would have stayed only in allegiance to those adjacent and subordinate to them doing the best they could given the obscene circumstances. And once it was over, should have gone to their commanders and said “that was [REDACTED] and I am out.” I am still amazed not one person in any high-level position did this. CJCS, SECDEF, Service Secretaries, and high-level commanders – not one. It furthers solidifies my lack of confidence in the military and particularly in the SOF leadership.

    I heard a theory a few months ago on a forgotten podcast episode that if true would make leadership look even worse. The thought was Obama and Trump wanted to leave Afghanistan but the military talked them out of it. Biden got in and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Therefore, the military said fine, we’ll do it your way so the administration would come off looking bad. Doesn’t make sense because the military looked bad too and people died.

    In 2013, I was deployed as part of AFCENT’s strategy division. Even though Afghanistan had its own staff supporting just them, for a while, I was put on a team to look at ways to leave since Obama wanted us out. We started studying the Soviet withdrawal, etc. and then were told the Afghanistan staff was handling it. Somebody was thinking about withdrawal plans eight years in advance but they either didn’t get developed or followed.

    Thanks @bishopwash.  I recently spoke to a long in the tooth DoD/US Army logistician in the Pentagon from late Obama to early Trump and he told me (and I believe him) that there was a plan and it was not even opened.  Thanks for your service BW.  

    • #7
  8. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    A great book review, thank you.

    Loyalty and honor as displayed by those involved with the Pineapple Express is not a common virtue inside the Beltway.

    @dougwatt.  You got that right.

    • #8
  9. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Percival (View Comment):

    If Austin and Milley lacked the honor to walk out, then they should have been pushed. With a boot tip.

    Agree.  Thanks @percival..

    • #9
  10. God-LovingWoman Coolidge
    God-LovingWoman
    @GodLovingWoman

    Columbo (View Comment):

    @ godlovingwoman … you have been a direct participant in this real story of betrayal and cowardice.

    Yes, but not as direct as those on the ground. I was one civilian on a team of military folks, including one amazing Afghan fighter who’d been recruited to serve with US military special ops. I was definitely an outsider on the team – but with a kindred heart and sense of honor instilled somehow via DNA from my heroic ancestors.

    It is still heartbreaking, and yes, no heads have rolled and the airwaves are relatively silent, yet our efforts for others …. ???? I’m a simple person. It’s not right. The way it was done was not right and innocent people have been betrayed and left to the brutal oppression of the Taliban and other bad actors. I hear from an Afghan friend here that the Northern Alliance is rising. He calls the leader the William Wallace of this situation.  I’ve not done research on that yet … maybe will do that and write.

    • #10
  11. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    God-LovingWoman (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):

    @ godlovingwoman … you have been a direct participant in this real story of betrayal and cowardice.

    Yes, but not as direct as those on the ground. I was one civilian on a team of military folks, including one amazing Afghan fighter who’d been recruited to serve with US military special ops. I was definitely an outsider on the team – but with a kindred heart and sense of honor instilled somehow via DNA from my heroic ancestors.

    It is still heartbreaking, and yes, no heads have rolled and the airwaves are relatively silent, yet our efforts for others …. ???? I’m a simple person. It’s not right. The way it was done was not right and innocent people have been betrayed and left to the brutal oppression of the Taliban and other bad actors. I hear from an Afghan friend here that the Northern Alliance is rising. He calls the leader the William Wallace of this situation. I’ve not done research on that yet … maybe will do that and write.

    Please do GLW. I hope that you can find the time. You have a gift.

    • #11
  12. God-LovingWoman Coolidge
    God-LovingWoman
    @GodLovingWoman

    Columbo (View Comment):

    God-LovingWoman (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):

    @ godlovingwoman … you have been a direct participant in this real story of betrayal and cowardice.

    Yes, but not as direct as those on the ground. I was one civilian on a team of military folks, including one amazing Afghan fighter who’d been recruited to serve with US military special ops. I was definitely an outsider on the team – but with a kindred heart and sense of honor instilled somehow via DNA from my heroic ancestors.

    It is still heartbreaking, and yes, no heads have rolled and the airwaves are relatively silent, yet our efforts for others …. ???? I’m a simple person. It’s not right. The way it was done was not right and innocent people have been betrayed and left to the brutal oppression of the Taliban and other bad actors. I hear from an Afghan friend here that the Northern Alliance is rising. He calls the leader the William Wallace of this situation. I’ve not done research on that yet … maybe will do that and write.

    Please do GLW. I hope that you can find the time. You have a gift.

    Too kind!

    • #12
  13. Raxxalan Member
    Raxxalan
    @Raxxalan

    I feel we need to clean house at the upper level of the DoD and military.  This should have prompted a mass amount of outrage by our military leadership.  Instead it was just a after thought.  I don’t admire everything about Mattis but he did have the decency to resign in protest when there was an order he didn’t agree with.  That is the only honorable position in such a occurrence.   No one did this either before or after the afghan withdrawal.  As far as I know the only one disciplined at all was a LTC who spoke out against the withdrawal.  At this point I think we need to seriously consider a purge of flag officers and all senior DoD officials during the next Republican presidential administration.

    • #13
  14. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    Raxxalan (View Comment):

    I feel we need to clean house at the upper level of the DoD and military. This should have prompted a mass amount of outrage by our military leadership. Instead it was just a after thought. I don’t admire everything about Mattis but he did have the decency to resign in protest when there was an order he didn’t agree with. That is the only honorable position in such a occurrence. No one did this either before or after the afghan withdrawal. As far as I know the only one disciplined at all was a LTC who spoke out against the withdrawal. At this point I think we need to seriously consider a purge of flag officers and all senior DoD officials during the next Republican presidential administration.

    It is clear that the current version of military leadership are almost entirely political ‘ass-kissers’ to the civilian side of the armed forces. It is how they rose to their positions and were given ‘stars’.

     

    Today’s military leadership is nothing but politically-correct political paper pushers.

    • #14
  15. Raxxalan Member
    Raxxalan
    @Raxxalan

    Columbo (View Comment):

    Raxxalan (View Comment):

    I feel we need to clean house at the upper level of the DoD and military. This should have prompted a mass amount of outrage by our military leadership. Instead it was just a after thought. I don’t admire everything about Mattis but he did have the decency to resign in protest when there was an order he didn’t agree with. That is the only honorable position in such a occurrence. No one did this either before or after the afghan withdrawal. As far as I know the only one disciplined at all was a LTC who spoke out against the withdrawal. At this point I think we need to seriously consider a purge of flag officers and all senior DoD officials during the next Republican presidential administration.

    It is clear that the current version of military leadership are almost entirely political ‘ass-kissers’ to the civilian side of the armed forces. It is how they rose to their positions and were given ‘stars’.

     

    Today’s military leadership is nothing but politically-correct political paper pushers.

    I have heard it said that it getting bad at the O-6 level (Colonel/ Captain), but it is generally not as bad below that.  I am sure that there are probably operational level O-6 level people that are fine, but most people at headquarters probably are not.  This is a change in that the rot is getting lower.  When my father was in the Navy (he retired in the mid nineties) he generally considered most people sound at the O-6 level and below, of course he was an O-6 at the time so that may have colored his observations.  

    • #15
  16. ToryWarWriter Reagan
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    The NATO Leadership is as politicized as the Fascist Italians were.  Except at least the Italians could win there war in Ethiopia.

    I was watching a video from a former CIA agent who was part of the withdrawal from Viet Nam.  He kept talking about how his superiors actively betrayed the interpreters and deliberately left them to die.  To the point of ordering him to abandon them.

    All his superiors were promoted while hundreds of CIA agents were killed.

    This kind of stuff has been going on for a long time.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • #16
  17. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    The thought was Obama and Trump wanted to leave Afghanistan but the military talked them out of it. Biden got in and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Therefore, the military said fine, we’ll do it your way so the administration would come off looking bad. Doesn’t make sense because the military looked bad too and people died.

    That’s exactly what I figured happened. It makes perfect sense because the military, if higher-ups could not talk Biden out of being stupid (a tall order, to be sure), have to salute and do the best they can.

    • #17
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