President Biden declared to a puzzled country on Tuesday that the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan was an "extraordinary success," while his Pentagon portrayed a prosaic, workaday process to repatriate Americans still stranded in the war-torn country.
But text messages between U.S. military commanders and private citizens mounting last-minute rescues tell a far different story, one in which pleading American citizens were frantically left behind at the Kabul airport gate this past weekend to face an uncertain fate under Taliban rule while U.S. officials sought to spread the blame between high-ranking generals and the State Department
"We are f*cking abandoning American citizens," an Army colonel assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division wrote Sunday in frustration in a series of encrypted messages that detailed the failed effort to extricate a group of American citizens, hours before the last U.S. soldiers departed Afghanistan.
The text messages and emails were provided to Just the News by Michael Yon, a former Special Forces soldier and war correspondent who was among the private citizens working with private networks and the military to rescue stranded Americans.
Yon told Just the News that a group of Americans were abandoned at the Kabul airport, pleading for help as military officials told them they were finished with evacuations.
"We had them out there waving their passport screaming, 'I'm American,'" Yon said Tuesday while appearing on the John Solomon Reports podcast.
The heart-wrenching scenes unfolded this weekend as the U.S. military prepared to exit the capital city on Monday, leaving both the airport and most of the country under Taliban control.
"People were turned away from the gate by our own Army," Yon said.
After the episode ended and the Americans scattered to safe houses to avoid being captured, Yon wrote a stinging email to an Army major whose team had tried to coordinate the rescue before abandoning it.
"You guys left American citizens at the gate of the Kabul airport," Yon wrote Tuesday to the commander. "Three empty jets paid for by volunteers were waiting for them. You and I talked on the phone. I told you where they were. Gave you their passport images. And my email and phone number. And you left them behind."
He added: "Great job saving yourselves. Probably get a lot of medals."
Yon's account, backed by three dozen text and email exchanges with frontline Army officials in Afghanistan, stands in sharp contrast to the claims of the Biden White House that U.S. citizens would not be left behind in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
"I think it's irresponsible to say Americans are stranded," White House press secretary Jen Pskai said in an Aug. 23 press briefing. "They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home." President Joe Biden earlier this month underscored that position, saying that the United States would evacuate every American who wanted to leave the country.
With the American military no longer in Kabul, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, John Kirby, acknowledged Tuesday that Americans in fact were left behind. He described a calm, diplomatic scenario for bringing those people home.
“Right now I think the tools we have available to us and that we're going to use as a U.S. government is going to be more in the diplomatic, economic lanes, and we don't really see a military role right now," Kirby told MSNBC when asked if the U.S. military would rescue the stranded Americans.
Pentagon officials declined to immediately comment on the text messages Yon provided.
But Kirby on Tuesday couched the repatriation efforts as similar to how the U.S. would help, for example, a citizen who inadvertently crossed the wrong border.
"It's not completely unlike the way we do it elsewhere around the world," Kirby said. "We have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time, and we do everything we can to try to facilitate safe passage."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) the top Republican on the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, first raised concerns in a letter Monday to the Pentagon that Americans had been knowingly and willingly abandoned. Reached late Tuesday, Johnson told Just the News the text messages confirmed his worst fears and raised questions about whether the Biden administration has been misleading the public.
"I'm not sure what planet President Biden and members of his administration are on, but here on planet Earth, his withdrawal from Afghanistan is an abysmal failure," the senator said. "What we've been hearing from people working the evacuation is completely different from the administration's rosy spin.
"These texts confirm my worst suspicions and should serve as further justification to dramatically increase the vetting process before granting refugees legal status and rights."
Those involved in the rescue efforts described a volatile, frightening effort to get Americans into the airport and aboard planes.
"I personally know and was involved in an operation two nights ago," Yon told Just the News. In that mission, Yon and a tight cadre tried to shepherd four American citizens — a woman and three children — onto an evacuation flight. First, the group had to get past Taliban checkpoints and through the gate to the airport.
"We had Taliban take them to the south gate," Yon said. "That's how they got through the checkpoint."
Once at the gate, the family stood waving passports, screaming that they are Americans. But, Yon said, American forces would not come out to get them.
There commenced a series of messages and phone calls from the helper group trying to reach someone who would open the gate for the family.
The helpers made contact with an Army colonel who had knowledge of the evacuation process. In a text exchange viewed by Just the News, the colonel messaged Yon and others that people were being turned away from the airport.
Using short hand for American citizens, Yon wrote: "Any AMCITS?"
"Yes. All of them," the colonel responded. In a follow on text, he wrote: "Yes, we are f*cking abandoning American citizens."
While the helper group worked frantically to get the Americans through the gate, members texted one another to say they had seen National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on CNN saying that neither he nor U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie were told that Americans were abandoned.
"Hey did they end up just taking off?" one correspondent texted the helper group. "Because the National Security Advisor just told Tapper that neither he nor McKenzie had heard anything about Americans being left at the gates."
The correspondent noted that the private group heard differently from a lieutenant colonel (O-5): "Given we had comms with an O-5 on the ground, that means CENTCOM C3 is s--t, or someone is lying."
Text messages viewed by Just the News showed the helper group describing their efforts — and failures.
One man wrote how he spoke to the American mother, and sent photos of her family's passports to Americans inside the airport.
"The Americans recognize it's her and agree but I've been told General Milley won't let them in," the man texted.
The helper group strategized on whether they should send money, how much, and to whom. Ultimately, the family did not get into the airport.
"We get them to the gate, and the U.S. Army completely fails this saying, 'Oh, we can't do it, because the Department of the State tells us we can't do it," Yon told Just the News.
Others have reported similar situations at the airport.
"I have messages from Americans outside Kabul's gates who are now stranded in Afghanistan," Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) tweeted on Tuesday. "It's reprehensible that Pres. Biden's left behind Americans along with Afghans who fought along side us, but has no problem leaving our Southern Border wide open to anyone who wants to come."
Waltz, a combat veteran and a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, has noted that private citizens have rallied to save people the Biden Administration left behind.
Democrats have offered similar concerns about the Biden administration's efforts, including Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, a former Navy captain and NASA astronaut.
“Leaving any American citizen behind is unacceptable, and I will keep pushing this administration to do everything in its power to get our people out," he declared Tuesday.
The private citizens have met with successes and lost opportunities — such as the effort to rescue the American mother and her young children.
"The Taliban would have let them in," Yon said. But no one on the Americans side opened the gate.
"This is the kind of insanity that we're down to," he said.