In August, as the deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan approached, it became clear that the effort to evacuate at-risk Afghans was not proceeding smoothly. As the days went on, individuals from around the world—some with longstanding ties to Afghanistan and deep knowledge of the region, others with none at all—began an ad hoc effort to assist with the evacuations.
These efforts played out on listservs and WhatsApp message chains, in slack channels and impromptu war rooms. One such war room, established in Washington, D.C. in a matter of days by the Truman National Security Project, processed thousands of requests for assistance—everything from a safe house in Afghanistan, to legal help with visa processing, to actual planes and people to fly them. Because of the time difference, people in the U.S. were often working late into the night and waking up to an evolving on-the-ground situation. Rapid pivoting was required. “We had to change course every 12 hours,” says Katherine Maher, the woman charged with leading the effort on behalf of Truman. “What we did when we started was not what we were doing when we finished.” As Rebecca Yang, who worked for the flight manifest ops team on behalf of the Truman National Security Project, put it: “Lives were on the line, and every second mattered.”