- Steel pipe and electrical conduit supplier Zekelman Industries recently contributed $1 million to help evacuate 534 American citizens, lawful permanent residents and their families from Kabul, Afghanistan, amid the political vacuum left by the U.S. military withdraw there.
- The Chicago-based firm funded the lion's share of a $1.1 million rescue mission coordinated by Task Force Argo, a volunteer organization of former and active military and government personnel trying to get remaining Americans and U.S. allies out of the country, according to a news release. Iowa State Senator Zach Nunn is the group's lead spokesperson.
- Zekelman's contribution helped pay for two charter flights that left September 20 and September 24 for Abu Dhabi, according to the release. "It was the right thing to do," said Barry Zekelman, chairman and CEO of the firm. "We went all in."
President Joe Biden's Aug. 31 deadline to end the U.S. military's 20-year presence in the country led to chaotic scenes at Kabul International Airport, as Afghan citizens who had helped the U.S. tried to escape before the Taliban gained complete control of the country.
Since then, according to Reuters, private groups such as Task Force Argo, named after the 1980 secret mission to rescue American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis, have taken the lead on getting remaining evacuees out, but have struggled to maintain funding for their efforts as media attention on the situation in the country has waned.
Task Force Argo says its mission is to transport U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and Afghan allies out of the country, according to its website. "The situation in Afghanistan is life threatening for our Afghan allies, and we intend to honor the promise to protect them," the organization said. "We will not rest until these objectives are fulfilled."
Zekelman, which also owns multifamily- and hospitality-focused firm Z Modular, said it became involved in the rescue effort when Jim Young, managing partner of Austin, Texas-based Sabot Development and West Point graduate and Army veteran, asked for the company's help.
Zekelman said it jumped on the opportunity to save lives, and greenlighted the firm's participation quickly to help Task Force Argo source equipment, handle logistics and ultimately extradite the 534 people over the course of six days.
Amid constantly changing manifests due to shifting Taliban rules, the team coordinated with contacts in Kabul, the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State to confirm and properly vet the passenger lists and clear all passengers for landing in Abu Dhabi.
The September mission is one of three highlighted on Task Force Argo's website. Two other missions in early October rescued an additional 556 people.
The team is continuing to work to secure safe passage for all evacuees to their final destinations, according to Zekelman.