Though the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was “completed” at the end of August, there were thousands left behind.
In July, President Joe Biden promised safety to Afghan interpreters and others who had helped the U.S. military over the years.
“There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us,” Biden said in a July 8 speech at the White House. But despite this promise, after the last troops left the ground, numerous Afghans were left behind.
Now, through the efforts of countless private individuals and nonprofit organizations in the U.S., there is an attempt to get many Afghans to safety, and hopefully, out of the country. The Afghans left behind are now facing extreme danger as they hide from the Taliban and struggle to stay alive.
Ben Owen, the founder and president of the data intelligence company BlackRifle, was asked on Aug. 15 if he would be interested in helping with the Afghan evacuation. Would they be willing to use the device-level information that BlackRifle uses for marketing to help vet people overseas?
Speaking with The Western Journal, Owen revealed he was completely ready to help, but said no at first because of technological constraints in Afghanistan. But he found that they were able to start using public data to contact some missing people and vet others, just based on internet browsing behavior. That suddenly opened a door to the vast needs of many Afghans, and Owen was flooded with requests to get people out.
Lieutenant generals began contacting Owen, giving him lists of people they wanted to evacuate. Afghans began reaching out to him around the clock, begging for help.
“It’s been 20 hours a day. No joke. 20 hours a day, seven days a week since Aug. 15. My entire life is on hold. I put my business on autopilot. Well, we’ve got six brands, actually, but my wife is running three of them. We’ve got eight kids who hardly see me. I mean, this is absolutely full-time,” Owen said.
At the exact time that Owen was asked to help Afghans get out, his nonprofit Flanders Fields was getting off the ground. Flanders Fields is focused on helping veterans and aims to end the homelessness, addiction and suicide that plagues the veteran community. However, since there are so many Afghans that worked with and stood with the American forces, Owen and the others with Flanders Fields are also focusing their time and resources to help them.
“Now we’ve got not just homeless veterans, but like literally countryless veterans on the other side of the world. So we got pulled into that side of it from the nonprofit angle,” Owen said. “We were working on the data side trying to find … these people were very quickly. You know, we all have big hearts and we are ‘people’ people. Despite working in the data industry, we like to interact with people, so once we started making contact with Afghans, we essentially began case managers for them.”
While they would like to help every suffering Afghan, they are focusing on helping those who served with the U.S. military. There are about 4,000 Afghans that Owen’s team is helping. Flanders Fields has opened about 20 safe houses throughout Afghanistan, from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and Jalalabad. They are housing more than 250, while providing for the food and financial needs of another 500. And it’s growing every day.
Owen, his wife Jess and everyone helping with these needs are constantly being contacted by Afghans who are desperate and in some of the worst danger imaginable.
“And they’re all people that we’ve promised them that they would be safe if they helped us … then all of their emails, are just, ‘Please save my family, save my wife, save my kids,'” Jess Owen told The Western Journal. “And it’s really sad because sometimes they’ll actually attach photos of their beautiful children or their pregnant wife. And it’s just like, it’s soul-crushing to know that these people are about to die.”
Meanwhile, they are watching as Afghans who did not aid the U.S. military get out, while many interpreters and Afghan veterans, who supported and fought side by side with the U.S. troops, are hiding from the Taliban.
“So [no Afghan commandos] that we’re tracking right now are even staying with their families — they’re staying separate. We’ve had multiple get captured and executed,” Ben Owen said. “The interpreters, depending on who they’re served with and how recently, they’re very, very high risk as well. We’ve had a couple of them taken and executed or they’re still missing.”
One major problem is that some of the Afghans trying to get out are either American citizens or have green cards. Many of them have all the documentation that the U.S. government requires, and yet they are still trapped.
Owen said that during the evacuation he had a car of eight American citizens, women and children, trying to leave but they were practically abandoned at the gate by the U.S. military. One child and his mother suddenly disappeared for six weeks, but Owen finally tracked them down and was able to get them out of the country and to Qatar.
Genevieve Springer, another volunteer working with Flanders Fields, told The Western Journal she is working to get a group of teachers out, most of whom had connections with American embassy officials and are fully documented for travel.
“We’ve been calling them ‘the first wave’ because we thought we were getting them out. Then everything we did — it doesn’t matter if you have $5 million, you’re still not getting them out because, at this point, there’s so much political stop on every evacuation effort,” Springer said.
Jess Owen shared that five women contacted her telling her they were about to die. One of the women told Owen she’d been wearing the same clothes for three weeks.
They have received videos of children screaming and crying while there are gunfights taking place outside. Children have to stay inside all day since there is so much violence and danger. Springer learned that there was a bombing just two blocks away from the house where many had gone for safety.
These are just a few of the people that Flanders Fields has heard from. There are thousands. They are emailing, writing on the company’s website, reaching out over social media. Jess said that nearly every two minutes, they get about 50 emails.
But it’s not just Afghans themselves asking for help. Ben Owen has been getting letters from American major generals, lieutenant generals and brigadier generals asking him to help get their friends out.
“My thought process when I get those is like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing that he even knows my name.’ But two, I’m pretty sure this conversation should be going the other way. I should come to you for your active duty in our military and you’re asking me, a civilian that runs a data and marketing company, for help? I mean, this doesn’t even make sense,” Ben Owen said. “We had a former secretary of state make a request for a family. We have had foreign governments ask us to help get people out.”
The nonprofit founder also pointed out the horrible irony of the entire situation. The U.S. not only promised all these Afghans help, but as the Taliban takes over, there is a complete destruction of all the principles that America keeps claiming to champion.
“It’s unconscionable for a nation that has so recently been behind the MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter and all of these other efforts to highlight minorities and persecuted people. Like look at the situation we have right now. You have women and kids being sex trafficked. You have minorities being, you know, ethnically cleansed (the Hazara). And nobody, nobody seems to give a damn,” Ben Owen said.
Meanwhile, the Owens and all these volunteers trying to help Afghans, are also struggling with issues at home while they try to save countless others.
“So, on top of all the Afghanistan stuff, I still have to be a mom,” Jess Owen said. “I actually had to disassociate myself for a little while, and in the beginning, in August, me and Ben just went full force into it. And I was literally taking my kids to school and picking them up from school, just wailing — I mean, just weeping because we would have so many bad stories.”
In the midst of it all, they are hoping that, at the very least, they can give some hope to survive.
“Literally all I can do is give these people hope so they want to live another day. We had one guy that lost hope and killed his entire family… Ben had nightmares for a good couple of nights about that,” Jess Owen said.
But even in the midst of the danger and the trauma that many of the Afghans are going through, the Owens have also gotten close with the families they are helping and experienced their extreme kindness.
In September, the Owens’ daughter turned one and a family sent her a toy bicycle.
“I feel like they’re my family. And I would I would bring them to live in my own damn house if I could. And these are good people … They are so humble,” Jess said.
There are still many lives to save, even though it’s difficult.
“It is very depressing. You know, I’ve shed more tears, and … I used to be an addict and homeless. Like, I’ve been through some s***,” Owen said. “This is by far the most frustrating, demoralizing, demotivating, yet, at the same time, somehow rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”
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