As U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, Chelsea Berkey was suddenly inundated with calls and messages urgently requesting help. As the chief of staff and research director for Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, at-risk Afghan civilians reached out to her for letters of recommendation to support their efforts for extradition.
“In the course of working on this I realized my former classmates were really involved in these efforts as well,” said Berkey, who is also the director of the Hoover Afghanistan Relief Team (HART), which is an ongoing effort under the leadership of McMaster, the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the Bernard and Susan Liautaud Fellow at FSI.
As she entered names for evacuation into a database run by a coalition of groups determined to evacuate U.S. allies, she was contacted by a former classmate who recognized her name on an email thread from the coalition. Julia Neusner, MIP ‘20, had volunteered to enter Afghans into a database on behalf of the coalition, which eventually took shape as the organization Evacuate Our Allies.
After reconnecting with Neusner, Berkey soon found that another former classmate, Abuzar Royesh, MIP ‘20, was spearheading evacuation efforts of his own. Not only was he working to get his family out of the country, but Royesh and his sister successfully evacuated an additional 450 Afghans, predominantly schoolgirls, through the Thirty Birds Foundation, which they had co-founded.
“Once we successfully managed to get our family to safety, we asked, ‘so now what’?” explained Royesh in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “Do we just leave the rest of the community behind? We knew we had to stay involved.”
Simultaneously, other MIP alumni were working in their official government and military capacities to withdraw U.S. allies from Afghanistan. Wren Elhai, MIP ‘20, normally works on cybersecurity issues for the U.S. State Department, but he volunteered to work on the department’s Afghanistan Task Force.
“Connecting with Wren was incredibly useful in order to realize what the government actually found useful, and what was just overwhelming,” said Berkey.
Likewise, Roseanna Kim, MIP ‘20, who is a special advisor at the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, worked on mobilizing resources for refugee support and coordinating public-private partnerships.
On the front lines was David Webb, IPS ‘15, a Lt. Colonel in the 101st Airborne Division. Working with his fellow service members to provide security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, their efforts enabled many of the successful exfiltrations supported by other alumni. Dave Spague, MIP ‘22, a U.S. Army Captain with multiple tours in Afghanistan, similarly worked to evacuate Afghan interpreters and others who served alongside him.
“This is just scratching the surface,” said Jonathan Achter, assistant director for academic and student affairs at MIP. “There are many more stories of how our alumni and students are involved in extraditing at-risk Afghans. I’m proud of them, and am pleased to see the strength of the community come alive for such an important cause.”
Lisa Einstein, MIP ‘20, who collaborated with Berkey at HART, noted who the real heroes are in this ongoing saga.
“Afghans who have been trying to leave Afghanistan fought bravely alongside U.S. troops against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They are committed allies to the United States and unwavering in their friendship. They are journalists trying to hold power to account and girls longing to continue their education,” said Einstein in an interview with the Hoover Institution.
“They face harsh restrictions or abuse under Taliban rule and are willing to endure dangerous and unpredictable journeys toward better lives. These Afghans are the courageous heroes of this story.”