A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Air Force paints a chilling picture of evacuation efforts at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including a revelation that a group was planning on hijacking one of the evacuation flights.
Thousands of U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and Afghan refugees flooded the airport in Kabul as Taliban forces took over the capital city on Aug. 14 as U.S. troops withdrew from the country.
More than 120,000 people were evacuated in what the administration of President Joe Biden called the ''largest airlift in history.''
Troops manning that airlift through the end of the month, when the last military units left Afghanistan, faced many challenges maintaining security around the airport. Thirteen U.S. military personnel were killed Aug. 26 at one of the gates in a suicide attack by the terrorist organization ISIS-K.
In the report, Lt. Col. Brian Desautels, of the 71st Rescue Squadron, said they had received a tip that a group of five people planned to hijack a commercial plane used in the evacuation during those chaotic two weeks.
"Our team worked to get them clear of the NATO ramp, relocated to the north side away from friendly forces, then ultimately onto the south side where the situation was handled," he said. He did not detail how the incident was ultimately resolved.
"The data they were tracking was pivotal to managing airflow/airspace and requests for additional airlift support based on the numbers they got through the gates," he continued.
Desautels led the unit of 170 airmen in the deployment to the airport to establish security and remain on alert while providing support to U.S. citizens and allied partners during the evacuation, the report said.
Due to the circumstances at the airport, the unit could count only on pallets of water bottles and meals ready to eat that they could carry.
"I have been on eight deployments, all with rescue," Desautels said. "This is by far the most dynamic."
Troops were given a classified briefing on the mission in mid-July, with the 23rd Wing commander, Col. Russell Cook, telling the airmen that Afghanistan had changed since previous deployments.
''The hair on the back of your necks should be standing up; this is not the Afghanistan we all knew," Cook told his troops.
He said that he wanted his troops to understand the changing dynamics before arriving in the country.
"I knew this was going to be different — all of the assumptions and experiences from the past in Afghanistan were invalid," Cook said. "I spoke with the leadership before they left and made sure they understood that.
''By the time they walked out the door, I was 100% confident that the team was ready to execute their critical lifesaving mission in the most challenging of environments."
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