Since the last military flight out of Kabul and the Khider District Massacre, both events occurring on 30 August 2021, Chapman and Pritchard have co-authored numerous heartbreaking stories about Afghans in peril.
By Scott Chapman and Russ Pritchard
Operation Freedom Birds facilitates safe and reliable air transport for American Citizens and Afghan Allies, including asylum seekers currently hiding in Afghanistan. Acronyms associated with these categories include: AMCIT’s, SIV, P1, and P2. The acronyms represent human beings hunted by the Taliban. Primarily a volunteer organization with a pending 501C3 nonprofit status, Operation Freedom Birds does not hold a political view. It is a humanitarian operation to save lives in imminent danger from the Taliban. Through working relationships with other evacuation efforts and maintaining open lines of communication with the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Members of Congress, and numerous subject matter experts, Operation Freedom Birds provides transport from Afghanistan’s neighboring countries and operates strictly within airports and legal air spaces.
Flooded by requests from around the world, the unanimous message vocalized to Operation Freedom Birds is a fear-driven plea for help. In recent weeks, many have had friends and family tortured and killed by the Taliban; many are actively being hunted and in peril. Entire families, 15 or more, move every few days, hoping to stay ahead of the Taliban while waiting for a mechanism of transport to safety.
This is one story:
In 2010, the Afghan Air Force recalled young officers to active-duty status due to a shortage of pilots. One of those was Mohammad Nabi, a language teacher in a local school and an Afghan Air Force Lieutenant. Upon resigning his teaching position and joining the pilot training program, Mohammad Nabi was sent to the United States in 2011 to attend the Defense Language Institute (DLI) at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. “My father passed away in Afghanistan while I was at DLI. I was unable to attend the funeral due to the time constraints of the training schedules,” says Nabi. “We were a family of eleven. My father and I were the sole income earners to support our entire family. Since he passed away, all the responsibility now fell on my shoulders. It was very difficult to be in a foreign country [USA]; away from my family, studying, and being moved from base to base while everyone I loved was struggling to maintain the household back home. But I knew I had to serve my homeland and support our U.S. allies, so I stayed focused and earned my wings in early 2013.”
Nabi returned to Afghanistan flying C-208’s and after a year, the U.S. advisors recommended he return to the United States for A-29 training so he could better support friendly forces during ground operations. In 2014, Nabi commenced training in the States with the A-29 Super Tucano. In 2016, he returned to Afghanistan and provided ground support in the province where he lived; which had become unstable during his absence, “Shortly after my return,” says Nabi “My family and I received death threats, and I had to move them to a safer location. I had to split them in two groups and still provide for all of their expenses. Most of them were young or students. It was a very hard time.”
In 2016, U.S. advisors recommended Nabi for the Instructor Pilot course, and he went to the United States for a third time for training. Away from his family for more than a year, Nabi returned to Afghanistan in 2017 and commenced night / day operations with Allies while also instructing future Afghan pilots. During this time, now Lieutenant Colonel Nabi, was shot down on a combat mission and managed to make his way back to friendly lines. “Every minute of every day was consumed with protecting Afghan and Allied forces on the ground,”says Nabi. “We were workhorses. The heavy surge of missions gave me little time for rest, and we weren’t even able to recognize our most sacred religious holidays.” Muslims from all over the world would celebrate Ramadan in unison, except Nabi and his pilots. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, but Nabi and his team weren’t afforded a moment to reflect and worship in peace.
On the morning of August 15, 2021, Nabi’s squadron was in the team room waiting for the daily mission brief when chaos erupted in the city. His squadron learned ground troops were abandoning established fighting positions; some on their own, some ordered to by their chain of command. Nabi called his Commander and proposed several missions to protect Kabul from the Taliban. While waiting for clearance to scramble aircraft and defend the city, some of the pilot’s cell phones stopped working, and Nabi had to borrow a phone to connect with his U.S. advisors. “They told me it would be best to get as many planes out of the country as possible. We were told to fly to the UAE,” says Nabi. “While assembling our aircraft, our Aghan Air Force Commander called everyone to the ramp and said Kabul had fallen. He told us to gather as many planes and pilots as we could then fly our planes to Uzbekistan. All of us had to abandon our families. There wasn’t a chance to arrange for their safety or even to say good-bye. I left my wife and children knowing the Taliban would kill the families of pilots who fought alongside and supported the United States. Pilots and pilot families are at the top of the Taliban’s most wanted lists. As a man, how can I look at myself in the mirror after making that horrible decision? I sacrificed, once again, for my country and for our allies. I never believed the U.S. would abandon us like this.”
“We took off from Kabul in a three-ship formation to Uzbekistan. Upon arriving at Termuz, the tower told us we could not land. When I suggested Qarshi airport as an alternative, the tower would not respond to my calls. When we arrived at Qarshi, all the runway lights were turned off. I did a low approach and determined it was impossible to land in the dark. I told my two wingmen we were returning to Termuz. As we made our turn, MiG 29’s Uzbekistan fighters intercepted my team. They circled behind us, and after about two minutes I heard a boom and a flash of light erupted in my cockpit. The MiG had rammed my plane and I began spiraling towards the ground. I pulled the ejection handle, separated from my plane, and launched into the darkness. When my feet hit the ground, the Uzbekistan Police were already waiting for me. I suffered many injuries from the ejection and ground impact. They searched me and took me to a hospital for emergency treatment.”
After a week in the hospital, Uzbekistan Police loaded Nabi and another pilot (who was also forced down) into the trunk of a Russian military style Jeep and moved them to a humanitarian camp. During this time, the Police kept possession of their phones and wallets. On the night of September 12th (two weeks ago at the time of this writing), LTC Nabi reunited with American forces where they transferred him to a hospital in the United Arab Emirates. He is receiving treatment for lumbar and thoracic vertebra issues and partial blindness because of the explosion in his cockpit.
“My family did not make it out of Kabul on the early evacuation planes,” laments Nabi. “My wife and children keep changing their location trying to stay ahead of the Taliban. They are being hunted day and night. I can only hope the Taliban won’t find them.”
Help bring LTC Nabi’s family to safety. Help Operation Freedom Birds
Scott Chapman is an independent journalist, author, former Army Ranger, OGA Blackwater contractor, entrepreneur, husband, dog lover, and astrophysics scholar. Scott is the co-founder of the Afghan Medical Corps and can be reached at ScottChapmanAuthor@Protonmail.com
Russ Pritchard is an independent journalist, professional writer, former Chief Marketing Officer, flight medic, triathlete, husband, father, and grandfather. Russ is the co-founder of the Afghan Medical Corps and can be reached at RussPritchard@Protonmail.com