TAMPA, Fla. (Tampa Bay Now) – Three US citizens are safely back on American soil after being trapped in Afghanistan for the last year.
A local organization called Project Dynamo brought them back to American soil on Tuesday after an intense rescue plan.
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“If you’re an American, it’s not like a crime, it is a crime,” said Bryan Stern with Project Dynamo.
Stern spends his time helping people escape from the Middle East.
“If you’re in Afghan and you’re caught with a picture of an American soldier on you, you’re usually arrested, often tortured and sometimes killed,” said Stern.
And most recently, he brought home these three American citizens who had traveled to Afghanistan over a year ago to visit family.
“These three folks have been in hiding for one year, an entire year. They have homes in Virginia and California,” said Stern.
They traveled to Afghanistan months before the Taliban took over.
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“Probably it will be a very terrible rest of your life if you’re caught,” said Stern.
The escape mission took a total of five days and Project Dynamo volunteers worked relentlessly, flying to Afghanistan, going undercover, and pretending not to be American citizens.
“We are actually with the Taliban, we’re actually with the Russians, we’re actually taking artillery, we’re actually getting shot at. We needed to be really really careful and really smart about how we look and how we present,” said Stern.
The Tampa-based organization has saved hundreds of people over the last year, including the three Americans who touched down in the JFK Airport on Tuesday.
“I don’t really take a breath until my feet and their feet are on US soil,” said Stern.
Once those feet were back on US soil, Stern says it was an emotional reunion.
“The homeland security guy says ‘Welcome to America. Welcome home.’ And I looked at him and he kind of looked at me and there was this moment of ‘that’s right,'” said Stern.
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Since the rescue on Tuesday, Project Dynamo has received over 500 rescue requests from Afghanistan, and Stern says the organization is going to do everything it can to help those people.