The history of the former US military Chris Robishaw looks like a movie. For 30 years he was a member of the US Special Forces, participated in secret missions, fought in several wars and for those who talk to him, he even physically resembles the Rambo character — without the headband and with a few inches shorter.
“Sylvester Stallone is also short,” jokes the military man, enjoying the comparison with the actor who played, in fiction, a green beret like him.
Like the screen star, Robishaw created a dazzling and risky operation. He used his experience resulting from six spells in the occupation of Afghanistan to, along with other ex-combatants, set up a “parallel” Afghan rescue mission. And, while other ex-military and spies created similar projects, but charging for the ticket, his idea was to rescue people for free, in a purely humanitarian way, using some loophole at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where yesterday, after a In a frantic rush of rescues over the past 16 days, the last US plane has said goodbye to a 20-year war, leaving the country in the arms of the Taliban.
Hundreds of people gather, some holding documents, near a checkpoint around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on Aug. 26, 2021 — Photo: Wali Sabawoon/AP
to the team of TV Globo in Bahrain, the base of the operation, he says that the plan was taken over by the American non-governmental organization Ark Salus. The proposal was to rent commercial aircraft, call in retired pilots and use a network of contacts to open space on the runway at the Afghan airport, creating a private air bridge, foreign to any government, to save especially the Afghan families and soldiers who fought, shoulder to shoulder. shoulder, with the American and his colleagues.
A network of volunteers came together to, in online meetings, discuss ways to help select candidate passengers, checking documents, obtaining permits, guiding the way to the airport and creating a boarding list. The international press reported that more than $10 million was raised in donations — it is unknown from whom.
It was a risky gamble, which still depended on another trump card: convincing the government of Bahrain, an archipelago attached to Saudi Arabia and ruled by a rigid dynasty, to receive the refugees after a three-hour trip.
Rather than fighting for people’s shelter and logistical support, the challenge would be to face the resistance of countries in the region to publicly taking a stand at this time — a position which, in the case of Robishaw’s appeal, would mean passing on the message that the Bahrain was helping to save people from the Taliban, a feared group that will become a new major player in the region, one of undefined power and influence.
American Chris Robishaw mobilized a private rescue operation to get Afghans out of Kabul — Photo: TV Globo
The American says that the Bahraini authorities, led by Sheikh Mohamad Hamad Mohamad Al-Khalifa, agreed to help, in a silent way. There was an authorization for the ISA military base, in the desert of the country, where a US post also operates, to receive the Ark Salus planes. With the deal made, the film mission began to come off the ground, at least for a while.
In total, Robishaw says he organized four flights from Kabul to Bahrain in the last week. He also said that he managed to save about 650 people in Afghanistan. “Our hope was to roll out the red carpet to people who, just before, were at the gateway to death and punishment by the Taliban,” he said.
The initial plan, to rescue Afghan soldiers and their families, failed. When it was time to board, confusion reigned. And whoever appeared first, without the imagined criterion, boarded. According to him, those who participated in the mission are so traumatized by what they saw that they would not even be able to give an interview.
The problems, however, were just beginning. The film, originally action-adventure, started to become drama. Robishaw and Ark Salus hoped to rescue thousands of people. The press was told that two luxury hotels in Bahrain would receive huge groups of refugees. An international operation to use the money raised began to spin. Doctors and psychologists were sent from the US to the Middle East archipelago.
Map shows operation to rescue Afghans — Photo: G1
After the first flights, the political scenario changed. The bombing near Kabul airport last Thursday was the trigger. Tempers ran high in the region — and the US closed down. Cooperation with the Robishaw entity, which depended on access to the airport in Kabul, the military base in Bahrain and the US post in the archipelago, waned. People linked to the project also believe that the country’s sheikh, fearing that the refugees would end up on his island, decided to withdraw from the operation and leave all passenger traffic confined to the Americans.
With the changes, Robishaw was no longer able to organize new flights or take care of people who left Afghanistan – who would be taken by his entity to the US. For him, the overall balance is “incredibly sad”.
“We were guided by our moral obligation to do, to do well, to save many lives. So my initial emotion is still one of sadness,” he says. “And I think my second emotion is frustration, because we weren’t able to do more. I was frustrated because our plan was not as effective as I imagined,” he says.
The former green beret, however, feels that, above all, he is proud of what he has done. “We did what seemed impossible weeks ago. I’m very proud of our organization, and flattered to have been part of it and for the good we’ve done,” explains the ex-military man who, in his spare time, is also a consultant for war films in Hollywood.