Scott Mann’s Pineapple Express

It would be hard for an artist to paint a more poignant image of defeat and humiliation than the scenes out of Kabul last August. Throngs of desperate Afghans crowding airport barriers, some dying in stampedes, others clinging to C-130s and falling to their deaths. The scene is the culmination of 20 years of political and military failure. Still, much like Dunkirk, there was a story within the chaos worth noting. Scott Mann’s new book Operation Pineapple Express: The Incredible Story of a Group of Americans Who Undertook One Last Mission and Honored a Promise in Afghanistan shows in gripping narrative how ordinary men and women armed with courage and integrity can still make an impact in today’s world. 

Mann is a former Green Beret with over 20 years of experience in Special Forces. Much of that time spent working side-by-side with Afghan allies in the fight against the Taliban. When it became apparent that the Afghan army would quickly dissolve in the face of Taliban resistance after America withdrew, anybody that had worked with the Americans would be on a Taliban shortlist facing execution and torture. This is context when Nezam, an Afghan Special Forces operator that worked closely with Mann, receives threatening texts from the Taliban in the days preceding the withdrawal. Mann quickly assembles a team of mostly ex-special forces, fighting to save Nezam and hundreds of Afghans that worked with the Americans. Thousands of miles away, with no help from any government, in spite of Taliban beatings and bureaucracy, Mann’s team successfully rescued hundreds of Afghans from almost certain death in an operation reminiscent of the Underground Railroad (similar operations would save roughly 10,000 Afghans).    

The book is gripping and reads like a thriller. It’s filled with heart-wrenching moments, like when Afghans are confronted with the choice of leaving behind loved ones or staying in Afghanistan and evading capture. These stories make the book worth reading in themselves. But there’s also a lesson in a political context.

For our political leaders, foreign policy is viewed through a lens of pragmatic, momentary expediency. A good example is Obama paying off the Iranians with piles of cash in his nuclear deal. The Iranian regime has always been the chief orchestrator of Islamic terrorism, responsible for numerous terrorist attacks and the deaths of thousands of Americans, as well as brutalizing women and minorities in its own country. If the purpose of a deal is that both sides mutually gain, what good can come out of a deal when one party’s goals are virulently opposed to human rights? To one extent or another it is this kind of evasion and political meandering that has influenced policymaking in the Middle East and foreign policy, more broadly. It should come as no surprise Afghanistan ended the way it did. 

Operation Pineapple Express is the antithesis. What the men and women involved in Pineapple Express illustrate is the efficacy of moral integrity. Armed with nothing but courage and determination, without the support of any government, they were able to save hundreds of Afghans from certain death. Those acts literally did more to protect American interests than the full force of the United States government in those days. It demonstrates to our allies there are still good people in our country willing to fight for loyalty to our friends and allies. Not as a blind duty, but in a way that upholds the conviction that we stand behind the people that fight for freedom, as these Afghans so bravely did against the Taliban.

As I write this, brave Iranian women and men continue their demonstrations against Ali Khamenei’s evil, theocratic regime. How would it look if Biden and our political leaders had the integrity of the team of Pineapple Express?  Biden has made comments in support of the demonstrators and imposed some sanctions mostly against the “morality police” of Iran. But what kind of mixed messaging does it send when we impose sanctions on the “morality police” but leave the Iranian regime untouched? It is hard to deter adversaries like Iran, Russia, or China when we do not consistently stand on principle. As a start, sending consistent signals conveys to the world we believe in what we say. A goal should be to demand the kind of integrity and courage seen in Pineapple Express at all levels of government, which is why the story is so important. 

Image: Simon and Schuster

If you experience technical problems, please write to