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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"It's just a mess. We got the money and the planes, but the manifested people can't get into the airport. The flights may never fly."

That's how the CEO of a Silicon Valley startup valued at over $3 billion described his efforts to extract an employee and others from Afghanistan.

  • The employee, an Afghan with a green card who once served as a translator for the U.S. military, did get out with his wife (who had been waiting more than two years for a visa). But other members of his family remain, including a brother who he tried to get through the airport gates, so we are keeping the name of the company and its employee anonymous.

Behind the scenes: An ad hoc group of tech investors and executives has been quietly pulling strings and writing checks, trying to help as many desperate people as possible. But successes are becoming harder to achieve.

  • "One of my executives used to work in the defense industry, and offered to make some outreach," the CEO, who is an immigrant, explains to Axios.
  • "Serious people wrote him back, saying that if we contribute money, then they could get him out. At first it sounded illicit, but I didn't care, this was someone's life at stake, pull that thread," the CEO adds.
  • "Soon we learned that it was an ex-military logistics group on a humanitarian mission, and they needed to close the funding gap for a plane that would hold between 150 and 200 refugees."
  • "We raised over $100,000 in just 12 hours from a lot of people who probably know, and who have been working on other evacuations. As a CEO it's a very interesting trust-building exercise, to wire $100,000 to someone you just met, but this is an immediate, life and death sort of situation."

But that plane hasn't yet arrived in Kabul. Nor have several of the other planes funded by the same donors, because their intended passengers remain stranded outside the airport gates.

  • The employee and his wife got out on a military transport, first to Doha and then to D.C. The other plane was viewed as a backup for them and a primary way to fetch the rest of his family.
  • "There are planes just sitting a few hours away [from Afghanistan] that could take out thousands of people, a lot of whom have been trying for years to get visas, but the whole process was slowed down by COVID and other factors ... I just got off the phone with someone trying to get a busload of 100 people into the airport, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen. Even 48 hours ago there were some people getting through ... Now we're basically having no success."

The bottom line: The U.S. military remains scheduled to leave Afghanistan on Tuesday, which would make evacuations even harder.

Go deeper

Oct 13, 2021 - World

Afghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 safely leaves Afghanistan

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the White House residence. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

An Afghan interpreter who helped rescue President Biden in Afghanistan in 2008 when he was a senator has safely left the country with his wife and five children, the State Department confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Aman Khalili, who was instrumental to the mission that rescued Biden's helicopter when it was caught in a snowstorm according to U.S. veterans, was forced into hiding after the Taliban took over Kabul.

1 hour ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).