FAIRFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — The chaos on the ground in Afghanistan is real. Former active military members are volunteering their time to get everyone home safely by organizing extraction groups.
One of them has members here in Connecticut. “Digital Dunkirk” is named after the World War II event in which private boats were used to rescue stranded allied soldiers in France.
It was founded by a Westpoint graduate.
There are other groups too. Allied Airlift 21 and Afghan Evac to name a few.
An Army combat veteran from Fairfield has successfully extracted 45 people from Afghanistan, all from his home in the United States.
“I’m running snatch and grabs in Kabul from my phone here,” said Alex Plitsas.
Alex Plitsas wipes his face from exhaustion, stress breathing keeps him focused so he can coordinate with active military colleagues on the ground.
All coordinating in a massive covert operation called Digital Dunkirk. Plitsas speaks into his iPhone to dictate a text to his operatives. “I’ve passed on their location and information to a special forces operations on the ground and I’m trying to get them extracted.”
It’s like finding a needle in a haystack with thousands cramming into the roads outside the Kabul airport. “Yeah, that’s the problem. We’re trying to navigate them around Taliban checkpoints using Google earth satellite imagery,” explains Plitsas.
Using “Google Maps,” “What’s App” technology to encrypt messages, and an iPhone – he explains, “I’ve got five Americans outside the gate right now.”
Plitsas, also a Former Defense Civilian Intelligence Officer who spent time in Afghanistan, has rescued many including three kids kidnapped by a relative. Their parents are in different countries. The children had no passports.
“This was a nightmare trying to navigate for children through the city at 4 o’clock in the morning who are under the age of 16 and deal with some of the tradecraft which I can’t get into the specifics was probably one of the more challenging things,” said the Army veteran.
In the short time News 8 spent with him, a chaotic story unfolds. He is adamant with an unidentified Afghani man on the phone. “There’s a lot of people on that road that they’re sitting at and it’s also not a safe location given what happened yesterday.” The response from the unidentified Afghanistan man; “Yes too many people – too many people.”
The family makes a life and death decision to leave relatives behind. Unfortunately, everyone didn’t have paperwork to get past the Taliban. Another 5 people were rescued, but Plitsas is concerned.
He is versed in hostage rescue and personnel recovery. Explaining it was part of his portfolio for oversight – when he worked in the Pentagon for the Chief of Sensitive Activities for the Office of the Secretary. “This is a very very dangerous and precarious situation we no longer have a functioning embassy. We don’t have any military personnel on the ground so trying to locate and then free and rescue American hostages coming out of here… it’s just these scenarios I’m envisioning are beyond description.”
He says the State Department estimates there are an estimated 4,100 Americans still trapped behind the lines. He said the United States didn’t institute an official push to get people out before the collapse of Kabul.
And he believes the full scope of those trying to escape over the last several weeks could include 15,000 American citizens registered with the US embassy, 22,000 special immigration visa applicants interpreters, and their 50,000 family members all desperately trying to get out of the country.
Running on little sleep and adrenaline, Alex says he will try and get as many people out as long as he can.