Americans, Afghan evacuees on charter flight denied entry in U.S. arrive in Chicago

There is good news on a story that was published here Wednesday. I wrote about a private charter plane filled with American citizens, green card holders, and Afghan helpers that was refused landing rights in the United States. After finally being allowed to leave Kabul, they landed in Abu Dhabi where they were to board a chartered plane to the United States. That plan fell through and the passengers returned to Kabul.

The story was an odd one, one that didn’t make sense. The State Department and the United Arab Emirate’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were reported to have helped in the arrangements to get the evacuees to the U.S. Yet, the reason being given for denying landing rights to the flight, first at JFK airport in New York, then Dulles airport outside of Washington, D.C., was that more time was needed to verify the manifest. This seemed illogical, given that we are talking about American citizens and green card holders, as well as Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). Their documentation had been completed. They were not random Afghans who were able to get a seat on the plane and fly out of Afghanistan without proper documentation.

The charter plane ready to take the evacuees to the United States was a Boeing 787. There were 117 people, including 59 children who flew out of Kabul on an Afghan plane, only to land in Abu Dhabi and sit on the tarmac for hours while the drama played out. Then they had to return to Kabul, the mission was not accomplished. Project Dynamo, a civilian-run and donor-funded organization dedicated to “honoring the promise made to civilians in Afghanistan that aided the United States over the last two decades”, according to its website, didn’t give up. The plane carrying the evacuees landed in Chicago on Thursday.

“Everyone bet against us. So it’s just a sense of accomplishment — the best thing I ever did, the best work I’ve ever done,” co-founder of Project Dynamo Brian Stern said.

Stern explained that evacuees were surrounded by Taliban while attempting to leave the country, but successfully traveled by airplane from Abu Dhabi to the U.S.

Project Dynamo’s Jen Wilson met evacuee Nejiba Hassani for the first time Thursday, after helping her escape Afghanistan to return to her family in Seattle, Washington. Hassani had to leave some family in Afghanistan, however.

“I couldn’t get all of her family out. They don’t all have the documents to be able to move,” Wilson said. “So it’s been a long, hard, painful, heartbreaking experience and she’s here.”

“I am very happy. I am very happy,” Hassani said. “I am safe in here. I can’t believe it right now, I am here.”

The success of the mission is another example of civilians stepping forward and doing the Biden administration’s work. A member of the State Department should have been there to welcome the evacuees. It would have been the least they could do after the botched evacuation of Americans and Afghan helpers from Kabul in August. Not only did the Biden administration hand Afghanistan over to the Taliban but they left behind Americans and Afghan helpers promised help out of Afghanistan after the war. The Biden administration’s withdrawal was callous and not humane. Thirteen service members were killed at the Kabul airport. None of that story should be forgotten. No one in the Biden administration has taken responsibility or been held responsible for the deaths of Americans or for the disastrous withdrawal. Everyone still has their jobs. The media is happy to help Joe Biden “turn the page” on Afghanistan, as he says he has done. Project Dynamo leaders believe that this flight was the first private flight to leave Kabus since August 31.

Stan Bunner, a military veteran and a member of Project Dynamo, said some of the people they rescued live in the upper Midwest, and they’ll head home tonight. The others will stay overnight in a Chicago hotel and begin their journeys home on Friday. Bunner said Project Dynamo, which is donor-funded, is paying their hotel and travel expenses.

In emails to National Review on Wednesday, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they were verifying the flight manifest and ensuring that all passengers were properly screened and vetted before flying to the U.S. Bunner said the commercial flight that the group flew in on Thursday was paid for and provided by the U.S. government.

“It was a pretty significant change of heart,” he said. “You can’t ask for more than that.”

Bunner said this will not be the last Project Dynamo rescue mission.

“I firmly believe that we’re united in Dynamo that we’ve now proven the concept, and we’re going to replicate it,” he said. “As long as there are people that need to come out, we’ll figure out a way to do it.”

It’s a good news story at the end of a long week filled with less-than-good news stories. It’s hard to imagine the fear and stress those Americans and green card holders still stranded in Afghanistan are living with as they wait to be rescued. None of this had to happen. If Joe Biden had listened to his military leadership, as we found out this week in their testimony to Congress, there would have been a more orderly end to the war in Afghanistan. There is no excuse for Americans to have been left behind in the first place. Biden turned his back on them and disgraced the United States on the world stage. Our military and our country deserve a better Commander-in-Chief.

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