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Private Groups Step In To Help Get U.S. Citizens Out Of Afghanistan

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

U.S. military officials say that before the last C-17 flew out of Kabul, they evacuated more than 123,000 civilians, including 6,000 Americans. But the U.S. government admits they have not been able to get everyone out who wanted to leave Afghanistan. Private groups have stepped in, including a coalition of former government and military officials, led in part by Mary Beth Long. She's a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President George W. Bush. Long told our co-host Rachel Martin that this private group has evacuated at least 300 American citizens not accounted for by the U.S. government.

MARY BETH LONG: There were many people who were there visiting family. There were contractors who were there who had substantial relationships with Afghans, who had green cards, some of whom became American citizens who didn't necessarily go into the embassy or tell State Department where they were.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So may I ask - the people who you've been working to get out, had they had any interaction with the U.S. government?

LONG: No, not until they received either text messages or emails. And the problem with that was severalfold. No. 1, the Taliban was sending out very similar text messages and email. The second problem with that was the State Department's texts and emails asked these American citizens to go on websites where you fill out forms and you have to go to this other website. And then at the end of it all, you had to print out a form and take it in the last 48 hours to the embassy that you've printed out, I guess, on your printer that everybody does not have in Kabul. And that was the only way you could even get close to a gate. It's insane.

MARTIN: So how has your organization been able to do it differently?

LONG: Several things - we were working with a number of other groups, and they had people on the ground, many of them who were literally going and picking up Afghans, particularly those U.S. citizens with Afghan citizenship - excuse me - or the reverse. That - some of them were old ladies. Some of them were pregnant. We would have waypoints and have everyone meet there and then load buses with as many U.S. citizens, green card holders and Special Immigrant Visa holders as we possibly could.

MARTIN: How did you get the planes?

LONG: Actually, several other people - many of them were donors or wealthy individuals. A couple were special interests. We had people on the ground, then, that connected our planes with those particular manifested Afghans and Americans that we had cleared.

MARTIN: You had to have been courting, to some degree, though, with the U.S. military on the ground there.

LONG: Yes. But most of that was, frankly, with Marines who would pick up their phones or would - when we had our people show the blue U.S. passport when they would get close, The Marines would help us get them in. We've had some contact in the last couple of days with our joint special operations command and special operations command to help us know when they wanted us to have our folk at the gates.

MARTIN: Without revealing identities, can you tell us about the people you've helped out?

LONG: Oh, there have been some heart-wrenching stories. One of the families right now, a U.S. citizen family that we cannot find are a man and wife and two female children who are Texas residents. And those poor people have gone to gate after gate after gate and heard the instructions of our U.S. State Department. And unfortunately, when they get there, the gates don't open. And we've lost contact with that particular group.

MARTIN: What do you do now? Presumably, you still have a lot of people, U.S. citizens, Afghan citizens who are still in touch with you trying to get out.

LONG: We're already pivoting. One of our great, terrific leaders saw this coming and has already been working resources (ph) to get people out over land and using other means.

MARTIN: So over land, presumably, that goes into Pakistan.

LONG: There's also northern opportunities up through the north, Tajikistan and some of the northern border countries.

MARTIN: So you'll keep going.

LONG: Oh, yes. As Americans, I mean, isn't that what we're all about, getting our people safe?

MARTIN: Mary Beth Long is the former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President George W. Bush. We appreciate your time. Thank you.

LONG: Really appreciate it, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.