Instagram star struggled to effectively use $7M raised for Afghan evacuations: report

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An Instagram star reportedly struggled to effectively use the more than $7 million he had raised to help evacuate Afghan civilians amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that, following an in-depth examination, “Operation Flyaway,” which is headed by Instagram star Tommy Marcus, who posts as “Quentin Quarantino,” was not as successful as it was made out to be.

Marcus, 26, in less than two tweets had raised more than $7.2 million after asking his 690,000 Instagram followers to donate money to help evacuate Afghan citizens amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country. His initial goal was $550,000.

Marcus wrote on the group’s GoFundMe page that “We want to be clear: EVERY SINGLE NICKEL of everything raised will go to either pay for flights, or support these humans through various non-profits.” He said they “will be running flights until they tell us we can’t anymore.”

The Post, however — through an examination of financial records, emails, text messages, recordings of calls and interviews with 10 people connected to Flyaway — discovered that no Afghans have been pulled from the country on flights that were chartered by Marcus’s group.

Flyaway has reportedly put $3.3 million towards flights for Afghans that were ultimately canceled. Marcus has not received any refunds.

While Flyaway in some circumstances did aid Afghan civilians looking to leave Afghanistan by helping to finance flights from other groups or assisting individuals with traveling to airports, Marcus told the Post that the majority of Afghans his company helped were evacuated on flights that were paid by taxpayers or other groups.

A number of groups and individuals worked to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul after the Taliban seized control of the country amid the U.S. troop withdrawal.

The U.S. military evacuated more than 123,000 individuals from Afghanistan during its operation.

The company faces a series of obstacles in its mission to evacuate Afghan allies. In one incident reported by the Post, Flyaway was unable to access the money it had raised on GoFundMe to pay for two flights departing Kabul because the website had not yet released them. Because the funds were not readily available, Flyaway lost the flights.

In another episode documented by the Post, only 51 individuals were aboard a flight Flyaway helped fund that took off on Aug. 24, leaving nearly 300 seats empty. Some of the passengers who were supposed to be aboard the flight were unable to get through to the airport.

According to statistics provided to the Post, Flyaway used more than $5.2 million for flights and ground operations that in turn rescued or helped rescue 435 Afghans.

Marcus told the Post in an interview that his group’s attempts to pull civilians from Afghanistan are still ongoing, saying “I just know that we are working with companies to either get planes off or refunds.”

“People are alive because of Operation Flyaway. … So regardless of the chaos that has surrounded it, there’s no regrets,” he added.

Flyaway partnered with the International Women’s Media Foundation, which entered a deal to receive extra funding the company raised. So far it has received $1.2 million, according to the Post.

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