New Zealand could enlist private contractors to extract former Defence Force interpreters and other at-risk Afghans left behind in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
As the Government considers a "phase two" in the evacuation of people from Afghanistan, after the first phase through 'freedom flights' out of Kabul ended with terror attacks and total US withdrawal, the potential for hiring outside professionals to help has been raised.
National MP Mark Mitchell, the former Minister of Defence, had 10 years working in the Middle East, including Iraq, with his own private security and risk management company which specialised in getting people out of conflict zones.
On Saturday, Mitchell contacted Defence Minister Peeni Henare directly to offer to work with him on "alternate options" for getting the Afghans and other visa and passport holders left behind.
"I said it's completely non-partisan – no politics with this. We've all got an interest in getting our people out of there as soon as possible," Mitchell said.
"[Henare] indicated they had to look at other options, outside their own capability."
When approached by the Herald this week, Henare denied that the use of private contractors was under consideration.
The Herald understands the outsourcing wouldn't necessarily involve sending contractors into Afghanistan, but rather working with a "third party network" of local Afghans on the ground who have "real-time intelligence".
Commercial flights into Hamid Karzai International Airport could again become a possibility in the future but it appears a long way off just now.
The most likely options would be secretly ferrying groups or individuals across land borders into other countries – potentially Pakistan, Tajikistan, or Uzbekistan.
Although fraught with risk, negotiating Taliban checkpoints, and the danger of violence and kidnapping, one New Zealand ex-private contractor who worked in Iraq during the height of the war says Afghan rescues could be done.
"Pay the right amount of money and you'll get anything you want done.
"There will be enough contacts there to pay the right amount of money to, to get the right people to a border and across - quite easily actually."
Mitchell's former private security company worked with the governments of America, Britain, and Australia, as well as the United Nations.
He said most other governments have been partnering with the private sector for decades when they don't have capacity or ability to do something themselves.
But since raising it with Henare, there has been "zero engagement or feedback from the government".
"Time is not on our side," Mitchell said.
With the sudden and dramatic fall of Afghanistan into near-total Taliban dominance, many Afghan nationals were unable to be evacuated out of the in-flux nation before the US and all other Nato allies withdrew.
Three emergency mercy missions by the RNZAF, plus many more by the Americans and Australians, got more than 300 New Zealand citizens, residents, and visa-holders including Afghan nationals who had assisted the NZDF, and their dependents out of the country in recent days.
A group of 37 Afghan civilians who helped the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in the Bamiyan Province - including interpreters, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cleaners, and female kitchen workers – are part of those left behind.
They fear deadly Taliban revenge attacks for their former associations with foreign forces.
With the Taliban now controlling Hamid Karzai International Airport, and all of the land-locked country's major border crossings into neighbouring countries, they don't know how they can survive.
"We have been left without any clear answer," says one former interpreter who has been granted a New Zealand visa but couldn't get out before the airport closed.
"We have contacted the Government who say they are making a plan, but we don't know what it means. For us, we are in a very bad situation."
Community Law clients in Afghanistan who met the criteria for residency in New Zealand can escape to safety if the New Zealand Government completes the processing of their residence visa applications, chief executive Sue Moroney said this morning.
"Some Community Law clients have already made it across the border into Pakistan and others are heading that way, now evacuation has stopped from Kabul airport," she said.
"Some things are outside the NZ Government's control, but this is one practical thing our Government can do to get people with family in New Zealand to safety."
* A Givealittle page has been launched by the Afghan Association of New Zealand to help displaced families within Afghanistan with food, clean water and shelter. The link can be found here.