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'Our Own US Government Turned Them Away': Underground Railroad Rescue Efforts Underway in Afghanistan

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The State Department says the military mission in Afghanistan is complete and the focus is now shifting to diplomacy. But for the hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies still looking to get out of the country, the war isn't over.

"People are dying right now and many more will die because they can't get out of there, they're trapped," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) told CBN News.

President Biden touted the U.S. evacuation effort as the largest of its kind. While that may be true, thousands who should have gotten out were turned away.

Rep. McCaul has been fighting days to evacuate 250 Christian orphans in an Afghan girls choir, only to have the operation completely blocked. 

"They had visas, they had a private plane waiting for them, the Taliban actually let them through, and then our own U.S. government turned them away, after sitting there for a day, back to the Taliban," McCaul said.

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Joel Richardson with Global Catalytic Ministries says their rescue efforts faced what felt like "deliberate interference" each step of the way from the State Department. 

"Even to the point where Albania had cleared a plane of refugees and they were in the air and the State Department refused to let them land. They actually had to turn around and go back. So what you're hearing in the news in terms of this, 'great evacuation,' versus what we were seeing on the ground, it was night and day," Richardson told CBN News.

The bureaucratic hold-ups and other roadblocks caused by official evacuation channels, forced lawmakers like McCaul to take matters into their own hands.

"Almost running it like a parallel government operation to go in and save lives because our own government was not doing an adequate job," McCaul said.

Private operations also bypassed the U.S. government. One of the most successful is known as the Commercial Task Force. It was made up of thousands of volunteers and originally formed to rescue a small group of children. The team ended up evacuating more than 5,000 Afghans. 

"We really tried to target the people we thought were the highest (priority)....anything that by the Taliban's declaration, would be considered a target," said Commercial Task Force volunteer Zach Van Meter. 

Another well-known operation, Pineapple Express, involved current and former U.S. special operators, aid workers, and intelligence officers. So far they've brought more than a thousand people to safety and their effort is ongoing. Team members say measures are in place to continue facilitating evacuations.

Global Catalytic Ministries will also continue rescue efforts.

"We're essentially establishing an underground railroad. It's a matter of finding a network of safe locations, getting them places where they can sort of lay low in the interim...little by little we've run over 50 operations so far," said Richardson.

While much of the ministry's effort is focused on helping people escape, Richardson says about 30 percent of the Christians in their underground church network actually want to stay.

"In fact, we have some of our leaders who were out of the country when the Taliban takeover took place and they actually have gone back into the country...because they're so zealous to see the Church continue to expand to see disciples made," said Richardson.

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About The Author

Caitlin Burke Headshot

Caitlin Burke serves as National Security Correspondent and a general assignment reporter for CBN News. She has also hosted the CBN News original podcast, The Daily Rundown. Some of Caitlin’s recent stories have focused on the national security threat posed by China, America’s military strength, and vulnerabilities in the U.S. power grid. She joined CBN News in July 2010, and over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to cover stories both domestically and abroad. Caitlin began her news career working as a production assistant in Richmond, Virginia, for the NBC affiliate WWBT