Among the many horrifying scenes to come out of America’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, one of the worst was certainly the sight of the final, overloaded Transport Command C-17 lifting off from the airport in Kabul. Desperate people rushed the plane, realizing that it might be their last chance to escape before the Taliban fighters took full control and began slaughtering people. Some residents attempted to cling to the aircraft’s landing gear as it lifted off, later falling to their deaths. Less reported was the fact that when the plane landed in Qatar, “human remains” were discovered in the wheel well.
Almost immediately after that terrible scene, the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) launched a probe into what happened and whether the plane’s departure should have been handled differently. Now, nearly a year later, that probe is complete and the results have been released. OSI has concluded that the aircrew acted in compliance with all applicable rules of engagement and made the correct decision. But the Air Force spokesperson also expressed our sympathy to the families of the deceased. (Politico)
The U.S. Air Force has determined that the crew of a C-17 military transport plane made the right call to take off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, last August despite desperate civilians rushing the tarmac.
After the plane landed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the aircraft.
In a statement on Monday, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said the service found that the “aircrew had acted appropriately and exercised sound judgment in their decision to get airborne as quickly as possible when faced with an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan.
I would hope that the vast majority of us who watched that horror show play out would agree with the assessment of the OSI in this matter. Yes, the departure of the final plane was a debacle to observe and people literally died in a terrible fashion. But not nearly as many as those who went on to die at the hands of the Taliban in the months to come. We already know that the crew waited as long as they could and packed every last soul on that plane that could be managed. They simply couldn’t take any longer and if the Taliban had been allowed to storm the runway and block it with vehicles, they might never have gotten out. That was their last chance and they had to take it.
So of course the fault doesn’t lie with the aircrew. If there is fault to be assigned (and there is plenty to go around), it rests squarely on the shoulders of the man currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. As Commander in Chief, Joe Biden had the final say in when and how we exited Afghanistan. We also know that he ignored or overrode the input of our military leaders who felt that several thousand troops would be needed to hold the city rather than trying to escape all at once.
Right up until early August, the President had been insisting that the government would hold together and “transition” to the new system and our embassy would remain open to provide services to those still in the country. We were repeatedly assured that the exit from Afghanistan was not going to spiral out of control until it resembled the last helicopter leaving Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. But, of course, that’s precisely how it turned out in the end in Kabul.
In the end, our forces in Kabul were ill-served by their Commander in Chief. They followed their orders and did the best they could under the circumstances. They should not be found accountable for the horror show that unfolded in the final days.