As thousands of people crowded outside the main gates of Kabul airport and sought to flee Afghanistan in August, the CIA opened a back entrance to the field about 3 kilometers away, on the northern fence of the field.
The gate is known by several code names, including the Gate of Fame and the Gate of Liberty, and this previously unreported secret entrance was so secret that even the Taliban were unaware of its existence. It was located in front of a gas station and was managed by CIA operatives and Delta Force and its guards were members of a semi.military unit called 02, which had been trained by the CIA. On recent flights, these guards were evacuated alongside the Americans.
“The gas station was where our people would meet Afghans who wanted to leave,” said a former CIA operative.
Initially, it served as the secret gate to smuggling high.priority people to the CIA, including intelligence assets, local agents and their families, and a list of important people sent from the White House. This entrance was later expanded to serve as the main conduit in the State Department’s efforts in the last 48 hours of the civilian evacuation mission to help vulnerable Afghans working at the U.S. embassy and others who failed to cross Taliban checkpoints, blocking access to the airport.
The makeshift entrance was created from sand barriers, barbed wire and reinforced concrete walls placed there by a forklift to provide a protective layer to the aisle operators.
The Afghans who passed through the gate, whether on foot or by bus, searched behind the concrete walls and were then transported a few hundred meters and on a bridge into an American base formerly known as the Alberto denominator, which was part of the airport’s array of buildings. The CIA later opened a second secret gate on the northern border of the field. The CIA declined to comment for this article. The role of the agency in the operation of the bridge has been described by current and past American officials, as well as by organizations involved in the evacuation efforts. The State Department declined to comment on the role of the intelligence agency.
“On any given day, we did not know if we would pass 100 people or 5,000 people at the gate.”
John Bass, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan who was chosen to lead the evacuation efforts, described the difficulties of working with the Taliban, and dealing with large crowds of desperate people who all sought to reach the airport through a few isolated checkpoints. If we move 100 people or 5,000 people at the gate, “Bass said.
The State Department has arranged for Americans and permanent residents to enter the airport via buses on a road that passed through a nearby Interior Ministry, a process that required crossing Taliban checkpoints. An effort to move Afghans on the same route encountered obstacles after the Taliban demanded a list of names, beating and harassing these passengers.
The Gate of Fame route became more active on Thursday, August 26, more than a week after the Taliban captured Kabul, after a State Department staffer campaigned for an agreement with the CIA to use the move to evacuate U.S. embassy staff and their families in the last 48 hours of Effort to evacuate civilians.Embassy staff and relatives were told to gather in secret places outside the city and board buses that would take them to the airport.
The first three buses were scheduled for the morning hours to see if the plan worked. Eventually, about 40 more buses were expected to transport people later in the day and on Friday.
“Just do not reveal the secret of the existence of the gate”
Abdul, who asked not to use his full name to protect relatives still found in Afghanistan, was among the first to make it through with his family. He works for the U.S. Embassy General Services Office and helped set travel times for U.S. diplomats. He tried and failed several times to get to the airport with his wife, who was in her ninth month of pregnancy, and their two young children.
His former American colleagues told him there was a plan to smuggle them through buses. Abdul was told to reach a meeting point on the outskirts of the city and look for a bus with the marking 404 M 98311 KBL. They found the bus, got on it and soon began driving to the airport. The trip took about half an hour.
After passing through the secret gate, it took another four or five hours to pass through various checkpoints inside the field and the family filled out forms and underwent biometric tests. At about 2 o’clock in the morning, a military transport plane boarded with more than 600 others. The plane took off for Germany. His pregnant wife was given a seat, along with some other sick passengers or pregnant women. The rest of the people were on a 12.hour flight to Germany, with no food or water.
Sam Aronson, a political official in the State Department, was at the Gate of Fame in office on the day of the operation. When the first buses arrived without incident, he asked if they could bring families from the street. “Just do not reveal the secret of the gate’s existence,” the operator said, according to Aronson.
He called the combined operational headquarters, where State Department and U.S. military personnel were staying together inside the terminal at Kabul airport, telling them he persuaded the gatekeepers to bring families on foot as well. Aronson’s colleagues began calling Afghans who were on a long list of people hoping to evacuate Help from aid organizations, Congress and former soldiers to help them.
The families were given detailed instructions on how to get to the gate area of the CIA and were told to wear certain clothes that would allow Aronson and his translator to identify them. He brought in 13 families, a total of 52 people on Thursday, August 26, before the gate was temporarily closed in the afternoon due to warnings that an attack was expected on him.
Shortly afterwards, an explosion at the airport’s crowded aviary gate killed 13 U.S. men and women soldiers and led to an almost complete halt to U.S. evacuation efforts on Friday. All major gates were closed. Several U.S. citizens and Green Card holders were transported across the road near the Department of the Interior. Only the gate of the CIA remains open to Afghans and their families. Civilian evacuations were scheduled to end at 6 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, the next morning.
By tonight, Humira Kadri, a famous Kabul writer who caused a scandal in Afghanistan after publishing a book called “Dancing in a Mosque,” has lost hope of being evacuated along with her 8.year.old son. She has already prepared to stay in the country and work for women’s rights.
But at about 6:30 a.m. Friday, she received a phone call from Aronson instructing her to leave immediately for the airport. Aronson arrived at the gate with a Dari language translator named Mustafa Popal just as the call for evening prayers was heard throughout Kabul. They confirmed that two Afghan families had joined each other and were on point.
When CIA operatives announced that there was permission to advance, Aronson flashed a flashlight through the shape of a hook he made with his fingers, and then Popal shouted at them that they could pass. Amid the resulting confusion, Afghan soldiers whose job it was to protect CIA men at the secret gate fired warning shots into the air. Everyone shouted that the family should be let go and they finally moved.
Cadri and her son were among the last to pass through the Gate of Fame.