Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
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