CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — As the Taliban consolidates its control over Afghanistan, American veterans of that 20-year war are taking action — sometimes dramatic action — to rescue citizens of the country who assisted U.S. forces.
Scott Henkel, a former Army captain who served during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2006 and 2007, told NewsNation Prime anchor Marni Hughes on Wednesday about a particularly harrowing rescue he helped arrange.
During the war, U.S. soldiers and their Afghan allies formed “a pretty unbreakable bond,” Henkel said. He had a team of five members — four Americans and an Afghan interpreter he named “Kevin” to protect the man’s identity.
“It broke my heart thinking I might leave a team member behind. I owed it to him to pull out every stop and push in every direction and plead for help in any way possible to get him to safety. He kept me safe while I was in Afghanistan … this was my chance to return the favor.”
Henkel, who now lives in Colorado, said he was part of a group “able to connect Kevin with a person from the embassy that he had worked with, and also a contact within the armed forces that are guarding the airport. And through those contacts, we were able to arrange a sprint to the (airport) checkpoint.”
That “sprint” involved Kevin, his wife and four kids younger than 10 running a full kilometer at night through the streets and alleys of Kabul. When they reached the edge of the airport security zone, Kevin and his wife “threw their kids over the sewage duct that separated them from the airport.”
“He had one shot and no margin for error, absolutely none. But he is an exceptional individual.”
Henkel said that when he recently learned Kevin and his family had made it to a refugee facility in Qatar, “it literally felt like a 20-pound knot in my chest had just unraveled. And after connecting with my mom, I found out that that’s exactly how she described watching my plane come down and touch down in Fort Bragg when I came back from Afghanistan in 2007. So I know that feeling now and it’s wonderful.”
Kevin and his family still face numerous difficulties and hardships; Henkel noted that the refugee base in Qatar is hot and humid, with no air conditioning and long waits for food and bathrooms.
“But he’s out of Afghanistan. You take your small blessings where you can find them.”