Whitefish organization assists with evacuation of Afghan national women’s football team
It was midnight in North Kalispell when Nic McKinley’s phone rang with a text over WhatsApp.
“We are ready to map the plane. Where do we send the buses? “
These buses were to transport members of the Afghan national women’s youth football team to Mazar. The team members and their families had tried to leave the country out of fear: what would become of their lives under the Taliban?
McKinley, founder and CEO of DeliverFund, who is also a former CIA agent, led the rescue mission, called Operation Soccer Balls, and transported the national team out of Afghanistan from his non-profit organization’s headquarters. lucrative in Whitefish.
The Whitefish-based anti-trafficking organization transferred the 80 passengers to a 737, and on September 19, the non-profit organization safely delivered the 50 Afghan families to Lisbon, Portugal, where they obtained asylum. The flight was the second private charter to leave Afghanistan since the US military’s withdrawal from the country.
The operation began in mid-August, when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) approached McKinley and asked for help in evacuating women and children at risk of human trafficking. in Afghanistan.
Prior to Operation Soccer Balls, DeliverFund had carried out several other Afghan rescue missions through the heavily fortified CIA Base Eagle. On the same day he was approached with the special assignment, DeliverFund began to strategize for the evacuation of the national team from its headquarters in Whitefish.
The Operation Soccer Balls rescue mission was coordinated by an international coalition of independent and government agencies, including USAID, US military intelligence officials, US Senator Chris Coons, various humanitarian groups, Occidental Petroleum and Hollywood actors.
In addition to designing the evacuee getaway, the coalition protected the girls, ages 14 to 16, and their families. Special agents located and transferred families to various safe hiding places in order to protect members of the Taliban squad, who were going door-to-door and searching for the young girls in the streets, according to McKinley, the captain of the United States. Afghanistan Women’s National Team.
On August 26, when the team was initially scheduled to meet with their point of contact in Kabul, a suicide bombing attack exploded at the airport and interrupted their scheduled departure. Their exit strategy collapsed as US troops accelerated their withdrawal; Operation Soccer Balls must have pivoted quickly and delayed the evacuation.
Until the relief team received Taliban approval to transport the families out of Mazar, they could not move forward with the mission.
As a back-up strategy, officers are reportedly asking the neighboring Pakistani government to facilitate the Taliban’s approval of aviation. When officers inquired, officials rejected their request, saying they would not get involved. A special agent, however, who passes through M, acquired coveted intelligence: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was a big fan of conservative American radio host Glenn Beck.
According to McKinley, members of Operation Soccer Balls coordinated the sources and pulled the strings to contact Beck and the Prime Minister. Beck handwritten a letter to Khan asking for a favor for the girls’ team to be flown.
Shortly after McKinley responded to the midnight text, the girls and their families left the country, with a pit stop to refuel in Georgia, located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, to finally set foot on September 19 in Portugal, their new home.
For six years, DeliverFund has been fighting human exploitation across the country and locally, from Whitefish to Missoula. The organization works with local and national authorities to find human traffickers and save victims. Its team is equipped with cutting-edge technology, made possible through donations.
McKinley, a former US Air Force Pararescueman in addition to a CIA agent, founded the organization in 2014, shortly after serving for the US government. He served four combat deployments in Afghanistan, and 30 in total.
While overseas on a special operation, McKinley and another officer from the Joint Special Operations Command gathered intelligence on a human trafficker moving children across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. . Much to his disappointment, there was not much either agent could do with the intelligence.
“We can kill people with flying robots at a distance of 6,000 miles, we also have a dedicated drug trafficking office, but we are not doing anything significant to stop human trafficking?” McKinley said in an interview with the Beacon.
A common misconception is that human traffickers largely do business overseas, but the reality is that nearly 60,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year. In fact, the country is considered one of the worst countries for adult trafficking, with the top three being Mexico, the United States, and the Philippines.
“That’s why I founded DeliverFund, to fight human trafficking in the United States and overseas,” McKinley said.
For McKinley and his team at DeliverFund, bringing human traffickers to justice will always be a team effort, just like Operation Soccer Balls.
For more information on DeliverFund, visit DeliverFund.org.