Jen Wilson, the chief operating officer of Army Week Association, is leading the fight to get interpreters to safety.
“I’ve been glued to my phone for 96 hours now working since Sunday to get all of these guys out,” Wilson said.
Many are struggling to get inside Kabul airport due to issues with Taliban checkpoints and paperwork problems.
“The process is supposedly, according to the American forces, you put them on a list, the list goes to the gate, they’re calling out the names over this loudspeaker and they’re supposed to be able to go in,” Wilson said. “That is not working.”
Wilson said she was able to get 30 people out of the country so far.
“The way I’m getting people in is having our interpreters go to the guards at the gate, get their contact information, and put me on the phone with them,” Wilson said. “I’ve never served in the military, but ‘I’m Sergeant First Class Jen Wilson with the 82nd airborne US Army these guys need to be let through’ and it’s worked. I got 14 out that way. I mean, it’s incredible that it works.”
Right now, there is no accurate figure of the number of people – Americans, Afghans or others – who are in need of evacuation as the process is almost entirely self-selecting.
Wilson said she originally had a list of 62 interpreters that were trying to evacuate, but that number keeps growing.
Another problem they face is getting to the airport.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested on Wednesday that troops going beyond the airport perimeter to collect and escort people was not currently feasible. “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” he told reporters.
Austin added that evacuations would continue “until the clock runs out or we run out of capability.”
President Joe Biden said Wednesday he would ensure no American was left behind, even if that meant staying beyond August, an arbitrary deadline that he set weeks before the Taliban climaxed a stunning military victory by taking Kabul last weekend. It was not clear if Biden might consider extending the deadline for evacuees who aren’t American citizens.
“The desperation for them is getting exponentially worse because they know they’re being hunted,” Wilson said. “And they know they can’t get in the airport. So they’re stuck in this middle ground. So we have a couple very high-value targets that the Taliban is after that we’ve stashed in safe houses and we’re waiting for a secure guaranteed way into the gate.”