Ex-special forces officer David Lavery was at Kabul airport for days before Canadian military arrived
A special forces soldier with the Canadian Armed Forces, Dave Lavery, worked with a team of volunteers to get at least 100 Afghans through the chaos of the Kabul airport to safety. (Submitted by David Lavery)
VTN recognizes the bravery of former CAF special forces officer Dave Lavery who helped 100 Afghans “over the wall” during the agonizing chaos at Hamid Karzhai International Airport. While everyone was fleeing, “Canadian Dave” held his ground for this campaign and the Afghans desperately in need of his help. VTN’s donors funded his security team, including these terror-filled days at the airport, and changed history. Without VTN’s donors establishing Canadian Dave’s presence, no one would have worn red for Canada at that airport for four days. VTN’s donors gave Canada a true hero and saved many lives.
For David Lavery, the fall of Afghanistan comes with a soundtrack of men yelling, women weeping and babies wailing — all coalescing into a din of despair that echoes in his mind.
That cacophony surrounded him in the days after the Taliban took the Afghan capital, as the former soldier walked the perimeter of the Kabul airport searching for the Canadians and Afghan allies he was tasked with evacuating.
A founding member of JTF2, the elite counter-terrorism unit of the Canadian Forces, Lavery now operates a private security company, Raven Rae Consultancy, in Kabul. As a soldier for more than two decades, Lavery was no stranger to the devastation of war zones. But the crush of humanity fleeing the Taliban stunned him.
“It’s horrible and hard to process. There was a constant hum, a 24/7 of noise, desperation and panic,” said Lavery, recounting the chaos of the rescue in a Zoom interview from a hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, just days after he himself was airlifted to safety. “It was all about survival.”
Because of donors, all these people made it to the airport through the chaos and panic to safety. This group of Afghans were extracted by Lavery’s team and brought into the airport. (Submitted by David Lavery)
After Kabul fell on Aug. 15, Lavery was the only Canadian on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Embassy staff had left on evacuation flights and it would be another four days before Canadian Forces arrived to help.
Lavery was given a list of more than 1,200 applicants seeking refuge in Canada. The names were collected by advocates and Canadian veterans of the Afghanistan war who had banded together to help Afghans escape the looming Taliban threat.
The mission for Lavery’s team was to guide refugees to the airport, then extract those with valid Canadian documentation from the sea of people who had gathered outside the security perimeter set up by U.S. and British forces — which included the airport and the Baron Hotel — and get them on transport planes out of the country.
The Afghans were told to wear red and look for a man named “Canadian Dave.”
“It will haunt me because I can see the desperation in people’s faces,” said Lavery. “I could hear people on the other side [of the gate] who knew me screaming, ‘David, don’t leave us!’ But I couldn’t open the door.”
After refugees with valid documentation were extracted from the crowds, they were brought inside the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport and held for further screening. British paratroopers and the U.S. military controlled the entrances to the airport. (Submitted by David Lavery)
News that the Taliban had entered Kabul on Aug. 15 triggered a stretch of sleepless nights for Wendy Long, the founder of the Afghan Canadian Interpreters (ACI) group.
For the past five years, Long, who lives in Ontario’s Niagara region, had been pushing for a path to immigration for Afghan interpreters who assisted Canadian Forces during the war and were likely targets of Taliban retribution.
The government of Justin Trudeau finally agreed on July 23 and announced that Canada would fast-track immigration applications of Afghan allies.
By then, Long and her volunteers had collected the names of hundreds of Afghans and their families. They weren’t just interpreters, but also drivers, cooks and maintenance workers who worked with the Canadian military over the past 20 years.
But to get out of the country, they needed to obtain special immigration visas, which required providing biometric information such as fingerprints and filing paperwork at the Canadian embassy in Kabul.
Long’s team worked “in a frenzy,” she said, to confirm identities of the Afghans and their connections to Canadian soldiers. Volunteers were frustrated by immigration staff who wouldn’t accept family applications, only individual ones. The process bogged down approvals, but also forced some applicants to choose between escaping Afghanistan and staying behind with loved ones.
“It caused a lot of people to have to make a choice of whether to leave when they got their facilitation letters and go to their airport without their family,” said Long.
Lavery and his wife, Junping Zhang-Lavery, boarded the last German airlift out of Kabul on Aug. 26. As they were boarding, they could hear explosions from a suicide attack. (Submitted by David Lavery)