The messages blow up the Frazers’ phones every night.
Ding. “Good morning sister.” Ding. A picture of a child sitting in front of a bloody corpse lying in the street. Ding. A video of a man filming himself while he runs for his life from Taliban soldiers.
The notifications carry on until midnight, then pick up again in the morning.
“I wake up knowing that the first thing I’m going to see if I open that message is going to be a dead person,” Nicole Frazer said. “So sometimes I open it when I get to work instead of when I roll out of bed.”
The messages, sent by Afghans over the encrypted app Signal, have been a constant in Nicole and Scot Frazer’s lives since August, when the U.S. withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Every evening, as the sun rises over the war-torn country 7,000 miles away, a flurry of messages in broken English, often full of fear and despair, pour in and the Frazers answer.
Scot Frazer became friends with Afghan soldiers in 2005 and 2006 when he was serving in Afghanistan. He trained Afghan fighters and turned some into a crisis response team. A few of his men went on to become commandos, part of an elite force of about 22,000 that did much of the fighting against the Taliban in the past decade.
When the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan and the country fell to the Taliban, thousands of commandos were left stranded. Scot Frazer said he believes at least 2,600 commandos are hiding from the Taliban.
In the months leading up to the withdrawal, the Biden administration promised interpreters and other Afghans who had aided U.S. forces that they could come to the United States, but that offer was not officially extended to the Afghan special forces the U.S. government expected to hold off the advancing Taliban fighters. While a historic U.S.-led airlift brought some 100,000 people out of the country, most of the Afghans who got out in the chaotic evacuation were not the former interpreters and other U.S. allies who qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa program.
The U.S. has broken its promise to get its allies to safety, Scot Frazer and thousands of other veterans say.
Many Afghan commandos and their families are in limbo. Some fled their homes in August and flocked to major cities, hoping to fly out of the country. The Frazers say the commandos find themselves stuck in safehouses, broke, hunted by the Taliban and with little reason to hope they’ll escape soon.
With many American veterans accusing the U.S. government of doing relatively little to evacuate allies, the Frazers and other veteran families are conducting an informal sustainment mission.
The Frazers, who live in Spokane Valley, are constantly messaging half a dozen commandos, soldiers and an interpreter, four of whom Scot Frazer knew when he was in Afghanistan. They’re giving them updates, trying to keep their spirits up, searching to find them an exit and sending them money so they can feed themselves and their families.
“There’s soldiers like myself all over the U.S. that are doing the same thing,” Scot Frazer said.
Time isn’t on the commandos’ side. The longer they sit and wait in Afghanistan, the greater the odds of the Taliban finding them.
“We’re fighting a time clock right now that’s not good,” Scot Frazer said.
Chaos from the start
Scot Frazer landed in Afghanistan in 2005 as an Army administrator, a paper pusher by his own description, and a supply man. A large part of his job was paying Afghan soldiers and making sure they were supplied with whatever they needed to fight, including food, fuel, ammo and truck parts.
Like many veterans of the war in Afghanistan, Frazer said operations on the ground were an utter mess. He said he was specifically frustrated with how little training Afghan soldiers were getting before being sent into battle. They were dying at rates far higher than U.S. troops, and Frazer said it was largely because they lacked the training U.S. soldiers had.
“I started getting pretty irritated with the casualties we were getting,” he said. “I had guys that were RPG (rocket propelled grenade) gunners who had never fired an RPG before.”
He asked for permission to give Afghan soldiers more training, and got it. Back in America, one of his assignments had been training Army trainers, so even though it wasn’t his official job, instruction was part of his skill set.
One day, Frazer was helping a group of Afghan soldiers set up a roadblock. He got called away from the roadblock to attend a meeting.
Soon after leaving the men, he heard a fiasco over the radio. A suicide bomber had driven into the roadblock, killing five soldiers and wounding six. The men were personal friends of his and he was furious. He said their lives could have been saved if they’d been given some simple training.
Frazer asked to have his assignment changed again. He wanted to spend more time with the soldiers at the company level, giving them training when they weren’t on missions. His request was granted.
In hindsight, Frazer said it was incredible that his role changed so dramatically.
“I never should have been in the position that I was in,” he said.
After about two months of giving the soldiers additional training, Frazer concluded it still wasn’t enough. The casualty rates on missions were still too high. He had another idea.
He wanted to create a crisis response team, a small group of elite soldiers that would have the training necessary for missions that called for finesse, not all-out assaults. The crisis response team would be able to operate in close quarters and clear rooms.
They’d be like a U.S. Special Forces unit, albeit with three months’ training instead of two years.
Frazer again got permission to put his idea into action. He took 45 volunteers and, with the help of a Green Beret, put them through a grueling hell week. Ultimately 12, plus the battalion commander, made it through the full training.
The crisis response team worked, Frazer said. They captured a bomb maker on their first mission without firing a single shot.
“They flowed like water,” he said. “Instead of just pulling up and emptying a magazine, we tiptoed up and evaluated the situation and communicated effectively, and it was off to the races after that.”
Frazer taught some of the original team how to train future crisis response teams. After he left the country in 2006, many crisis response team fighters became bodyguards for Afghan military leaders, but others became commandos.
Fifteen years later, many of the men Frazer trained and fought with are dead, but he and his wife are messaging four men he knew when he was in Afghanistan. The Frazers are communicating with half a dozen men over Signal.
The Frazers haven’t been able to get any of their friends out of Afghanistan. It’s not for lack of trying.
They’ve reached out to Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, urging the politicians to do something. The Frazers said McMorris Rodgers was kind enough to meet with them, but no conversation they’ve had with any politicians has brought about results.
At this point, a big part of the Frazers’ mission is sending their Afghan friends money so they can at least keep themselves and their families fed. Many commandos can’t go outside of their safehouses to work , plus the entire country is experiencing an economic collapse and famine.
The Frazers estimate they’ve sent about $2,000 to the commandos and others they’re talking with in the past few months using Western Union and Moneygram.
“It’s all of our disposable income,” Scot Frazer said.
The Frazers said multiple Gold Star families, whose sons died in Afghanistan, have also contributed hundreds of dollars.
Kim and Gary Lallier are one of the families that has pitched in. Their son, Army Spc. Jarrod Lallier, died in Afghanistan in 2012 when he was 20, just two years after graduating from Mead High School.
“I want to help, so I’m glad Scot and Nicole are trying to do what they’re doing,” Kim Lallier said. “The way that that all ended (the U.S. withdrawal) was a real slap in the faces of all of the veterans and the fallen.”
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
The Frazers have day jobs. Scot works in cybersecurity. But their phones keep dinging and buzzing until about midnight, when they go to bed.
They’re used to the constant messages by now, but hearing from people who are so distraught is stressful. Nicole Frazer said part of her is glad to hear the notification sounds, because they mean her friends are still alive, but the noise also makes her anxious.
“I’m happy every day I get the messages … just to know that everybody made it through the day or the night,” she said.
Last month, Nicole Frazer got a particularly terrible message from one man.
“He told me he needed to sell his son,” Nicole Frazer said. “I thought it was a language issue. Then, when I realized it was true, I sent them money and he did not have to sell his son for food for his wife.
“Now, when I don’t respond within a few minutes, he freaks out, so I literally always have my phone with me just in case,” she said.
Scot Frazer said, as a veteran, he’s almost immune to the grisly pictures and videos the commandos circulate among each other and share with him.
“You can’t focus on it, you have to put it behind you,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do to change it.”
He isn’t completely numb to the messages, though. The decapitation pictures are hard to see, he said, and he added that he’s only been getting three to four hours of sleep a night.
“My brain doesn’t stop,” he said. “I’m battle planning, trying to fix, fix, fix.”
The Frazers said hearing about so much pain and suffering has changed their conversations with American friends.
“It is harder to do some stuff and I feel bad when we go out and have fun because they (the commandos) are stuck in their house,” Nicole Frazer said.
Scot Frazer noted he almost feels a sense of disgust when he hears his American friends complain about minor things, like a grocery store being out of 2% chocolate milk.
“I’ve gotten significantly worse in my lack of empathy for my fellow Americans,” Scot Frazer said. “First-world problems are just not my problem right now.”
Fortunately, not all of the messages are depressing.
“There are days where it’s serious and it is awful,” Nicole Frazer said. “And then the next day it’s comical and cracks me up.”
Scot Frazer grins when he talks about how the men he trained still call him, “Coach,” or “Mr. Commander.” Nicole Frazer has a longer list of names, some of which are translation misunderstandings or terms of respect: Moon, Sunshine, Aunt Nicole, Ms. Nikolai, Mother and Victorious People – which is roughly what Nicole means in the original Greek.
A few weeks ago, Nicole Frazer got a video message from a family after she’d sent them $100 so they could buy food. The video pans from kid to another.
“Thank you, we love you Ms. Nikolai,” one says.
“It’s the cutest stinking video,” Nicole Frazer said. “They don’t know that my name’s not Nikolai, and I’m like whatever, it’s cool. The other little kid doesn’t know that my name’s not Mom.”
The Frazers hope that all of the commandos, soldiers and the interpreter they’re talking with can get out of Afghanistan with their families.
Not all of them have applied for visas – the Frazers say they can focus on that once they’ve safely left the country – but Scot Frazer said he’s confident all of his men will qualify, since their service as U.S. allies was well documented.
Scot Frazer said there’s one commando in particular he’s focused on getting out of Afghanistan.
The commando, a combat medic with a wife and three kids, was one of Scot Frazer’s original 12-man crisis response team. Scot Frazer said the medic could have received a visa to come to the U.S. in 2015 but chose not to, because his medical expertise was so desperately needed in Afghanistan.
Staying in touch with the medic can be nerve-wracking, the Frazers said.
“I’ve thought (he) was dead twice now,” Nicole Frazer said.
The Frazers asked that the medic’s name not be used to protect to his identity from the Taliban.
If the medic and his family can make it to the U.S., they’ll live with the Frazers. The Frazers say the medic already looks forward to going on walks – “patrolling” – with Kira, the Frazers’ 15-year-old dog.
Since the initial exodus a few months ago, the number of Afghans getting out of the country has slowed. The Taliban control the airports and land border crossings.
The Frazers say leaving over land is difficult, not impossible, but they’re also aware that the situation might not end well for many commandos.
“We’ve lost some already, and I hope that we don’t lose any more,” Scot Frazer said. “But part of my brain knows that we all got to die sometime. I just refuse to accept that (he) will not someday be sitting on my couch.”
S-R reporter Orion Donovan-Smith and S-R high school intern Shafiq Moltafet contributed to this story.