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One way ticket to Freedom

A former Idaho Governor and a local Afghan American worked to secure a flight for American allies out of Afghanistan
Posted at 1:52 PM, Aug 02, 2023

BOISE, Idaho — There's no doubt that the final weeks of the United States' involvement and departure from Afghanistan were chaotic. Unfortunately, not everyone who helped the U.S. made it out.

Former Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne said that was not good enough and organized a one-way ticket to freedom for many that were left behind.

Kempthorne has never spoken about it publicly, until now. "It was very frustrating because there was no U.S. assistance, the United States had said 'We're out of there.'"

The former Governor had to wait a year and a half before sharing this story of danger and uncertainty in Afghanistan saying, "It was dicey, it could have gone wrong at any point."

When Kempthorne heard about this story [of left Afghans who had aided Americans] through a family member on social media, he knew he had to try.

He believes that "Promises made are promises kept."

Kempthorne put together a team that included two U.S. Army Commanders and a young Afghan American from Boise, who loves America.

"As an Afghan American, I feel lucky to live in this country," says Nawid Mousa, a resident of Boise.

First, the group needed a list of evacuees.

"We were very selective. We wanted to make sure that those folks, who are being evacuated, they are actually in some way, shape, or form ... that their lives were in danger, that they were against terrorism and the Taliban, but they had also helped the United States mission in Afghanistan," said Mousa.

To make this work, they needed cash and a lot of it. Money was raised in the private sector, primarily from folks in Idaho.

They then had to establish an open line of communication with the evacuees.

"We taught them what a telephone tree was so that if we made a call saying the Taliban are coming to this area you must notify the others, one call would go three calls, and three calls would go to nine calls," explained Kempthorne.

Next, they needed to pick a date and location and get them out as quickly as possible.

"We told them to gather at a particular location and we had eight buses in the desert waiting for them. We had an airplane that was lined up, an Airbus 340, that holds 350 people," said Kempthorne.

Idaho Senator Jim Risch, who was recruited to assist with contacts in the State Department, said his long-time friend was about to put on a full-court press.

"Dirk saw the Government wasn't doing what they needed to do to get the people out of there, who were friends of America, who helped us, who were in danger when the Taliban came back. And at that time, they [the Taliban] were running back in and they needed to get out of there," said Risch.

Kempthorne had concerns the State Department was not fully committed to helping, as their official flights out of the country had stopped weeks earlier, and the area was under the control of the Taliban.

The State Department asked Kempthorne for a copy of the flight manifest. "I asked, 'Are you going to give that to the Taliban?' they said probably, and I said I will never give you that manifest," recalls Kempthorne.

So instead, Kempthorne reached out to the Government of Mexico through their ambassador in Tehran, looking for assistance with the exit from the country. "Within 24 hours, the Government of Mexico said 'We will do so,'" said Kempthorne.

They were close to initiating the operation when they received an additional list of Americans and allies. So now what?

Kempthorne got down and prayed, and then it came to him. Babies and children do not have to have seats. They can be in the arms of their parents. He immediately called Nawid.

"Why can't those infants be on their parent's lap? And then we proposed that to the airline. They were not happy about it, but we said 'Just do it and don't worry about it,'" said Mousa.

They chose an airport 260 miles north of Kabul because of the lower concentration of Taliban in the area. A young Afghan named Reshad was on that flight.

"I was actually following the flight tracker. I was not sure until the flight took off, I was not sure we were getting out of Afghanistan, said Reshad.

I asked if he felt there was a possibility someone might stop the plane and tell everyone to get off. Reshad agreed, confirming that it was a nervous time, too nervous.

Senator Risch and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed got assurances from the State Department that the plane would be allowed to land in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

It was there that everyone was processed for their final destinations in America and Canada.

Kempthorne added that everyone has made it. "We finally got the last person out of Abu Dhabi, which was the holding area, two weeks ago. We brought out a lot of allies that were in danger that will now become Americans."