A detailed analysis of the ongoing Kabul evacuation: the aircraft involved, those that have been abandoned and the US Navy F/A-18E/Fs flying top cover (via Pakistan)

A detailed analysis of the ongoing Kabul evacuation: the aircraft involved, those that have been abandoned and the US Navy F/A-18E/Fs flying top cover (via Pakistan)

By Tom Cooper
Aug 20 2021
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The air-bridge from Kabul is meanwhile something like in ‘full swing’, so let’s try to put together an overview of involved forces.

The air-bridge from Kabul is meanwhile something like in ‘full swing’, so let’s try to put together an overview of involved forces.

The situation on the ground at the Hamid Karzai International (I’ll call it ‘Kabul IAP’, for reasons of simplicity) is reported as between ‘voilatile’, ‘chaotic’ and ‘tense’, depending on the source (probably the ‘corner’ in question, too). All the European-NATO-patners are meanwhile complaining that the Americans are determining who is permitted to the aircraft, who to land and who take-off – entirely at their own discretion. Problem: the US commanders do not let their troops to venture outside the airport and pick up groups of expats and Afghans, because their agreement with the Taliban is prohibiting such actions. The Europeans can’t care less, and especially the British are repeatedly driving out to run such operations. To say this is causing ‘tensions’ between the Americans and their NATO-allies in situ – would be an understatement. Indeed, as soon as anything is not to their wish, the Americans are shutting down the entire operation. This is regularly resulting in other (than American) aircraft flying out half-empty. Similarly, the Americans are insiting on being the only ones to have a contact to the Taliban. NATO is zip lip on this, the EU is now intenting to open its own communication link (I’m sure that Doha will be curious to help…).

Curiously, there are reports about multiple Taliban teams moving among the masses of people at the airport, searching for members of the armed forces and for ‘Afghans’ that used to work with the USA and NATO: they are threatening to open fire if the people wouldn’t reveal such persons – which in turn is making the Americans ever more nervous. Whoever is caught is ‘disappeared’. Of course, one could say that the entire country is in a state of chaos, and no doubt: there is a lot of hysteria, too. But still, I see no reason why should anybody there trust the Taliban. Unsurprisingly, plenty of people are trying to flee…

More details about Reach 871, the USAF C-17 that safely evacuated 640 Afghans fleeing from Taliban
Reach 871, a USAF C-17 that safely evacuated 640 Afghans fleeing from Taliban

Anyway, as far as I can say, following contingents are involved:

Afghanistan

  • 400-500 commandos of the (‘former’) National Directorate of Security, plus scattered ANA troops are helping US and other foreign troops in controlling the perimeter and overseeing the evacuation. The Pentagon was quick to agree with them, that they’re going to act as a rear-guard and be the last flown out…

Belgium

  • Falcon 7X carrying a team that is to prepare the evacuation operation
  • 1-2 C-130 and/or 1 A.400M (the latter from Luxemburg, i.e. NATO-owned) is to follow today or tomorrow.

Chech Republic

  • 3 flights by A.319CJ, evacuating 170 Afghans that used to cooperate with the Czech Army, and the entire embassy crew (most were picked up by the Czech Army SF teams and brought to Kabul IAP). Few other Afghans that used to work with Czechs were evacuated by the USAF. No further flights are planned.

Denmark

  • 1 or 2 C-130Js are used to evacuate Danes and eligible Afghans (including their families) to Islamabad; from there they’re flown to Denmark by chartered civilian airliners.
  • plus Swedish civilian transports, including SAS A.320NEO registered as SE-ROG and SE-DYC, plus the DAT MD-83 OY-RUE. All three are used to evacuate people to Islamabad.
  • A company-sized element of the Army SOF (Jaegerkorpset) is involved, too.

France

  • at least one A.400M and one C-130H-3: they are flying people out to Al Dhafra AB, in the UAE: from there, A.330s of the AdA are flying people to France.

Germany

  • A.400Ms of the Luftwaffe; don’t know how many, but between 18 August and yesterday afternoon, they’ve evacuated 1,150 people – all to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. A single A.400M flew out 230 people, yesterday. It was followed by two additional A.400s, which managed to evacuate 800.
  • Germans have meanwhile deployed a team of the KSK to Kabul, to help with evacuation and ‘vetting’.
  • This morning, Germans deployed two H.145M helicopters to Kabul IAP: these are planned to be used for picking evacuees that can’t reach the airport…
A400M airlifter might never get all its features

Great Britain

  • sigh… it might be easier to get a spoon full of snake’s sweat than precise info in this regards. Essentially, London claimed the evacuation would be running ‘at full speed’ already two days ago, and it intends to evacuate 6,000-7,000 British nationals and eligible Afghan staff.
  • involved British troops seem to be from the 16th Air Assault Brigade. RAF is probably involved with Globemaster and Hercules transports…
  • Aid workers are excluded, of course (must be ‘all al-Qaida’, like in Syria…the Russians said so), just like about 125 Afghan guards of the UK Embassy: the latter were hired by a private contractor, and thus are not eligible for evacuation. I’m sure the Taliban are going to know to differentiate between them: just wait until they bring some reinforcements from the Qandahar area, to ‘restore order’…

Indonesia

  • 1x B737 (A-7305) of the TNI-AU, picked up an unknown number of people from Kabul on 19 August.

Italy

  • 4 C-130Js are used to evacuate people to Kuwait. From there, 3 KC-767 are flying people out to Italy.
  • Italians have a small team of the Tuscania Airborne Regiment (Gendarmerie) at Kabul IAP.
  • Italian gov is planning to evacuate 2,500 Afghans that used to work for it.

Luxemburg

  • 1 A.400M (as part of the Belgian contingent)

Netherlands

  • at least two C-130H-30s (for example: 1 C-130 flew out 69 Germans and 9 Dutch yesterday; the other suffered some kind of technical issue).
  • The Dutch are planning to increase the tempo to three C-130-flights a day, today.

Romania

  • 1 flight to Islamabad (Pakistan) – by C-130 – evacuating 2 Romanians, 1 British, 1 Bulgarian, and 1 US citizen.
  • 14 Romanians waiting to be evacuated yet.
  • C-27J available to support if necessary.

Slovakia

  • 1 C-27J, evacuated 24 people from Kabul on 19 August; security detail included troops from the 5th SF Regiment.
Trump administration approves sale of 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to Canada
U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets

Spain

  • At least two A.400Ms were involved the last two days; the number should be increased to 4 today. They’re evacuating to Dubai, UAE. An airborne ambulance (unclear if A.320 or Dassault Mystere [Falcon 20]) is waiting for permission to fly to Kabul.
  • Spain has two teams deployed at Kabul IAP: a squadron of EZAPAC (Escuadron de Zapadores Paracaidistas del Ejercito del Aire), the other is the GEO (Grupo Espcial de Opercaiones) of the CNP (Cuerpo Nacional de Policia) at Kabul IAP. The latter are civilians, no military personnel: well-armed for anti-terrorist and security operations, but not trained for ‘combat’, actually. Both were deployed to secure the perimeter (especially the runway) – at least until… well, see below…
  • Spanish MOD claimed no Spaniards are left in Afghanistan, but this turned out to be wrong when the former Spanish ambassador (sacked on 3 August, but still waiting for replacement) turned out to still be there and organizing the evacuation of remaining Spaniards and Afghan co-workers. Spanish president Sanchez is so very much concerned, he continued his vacation at Canary Islands…
  • So far, it seems the Taliban denied access to the ‘Afghan’ translators that used to work for the Spanish government and army.
  • Thus, the CNP GEO team drove out of the airport (in borrowed vehicles) and picked up a group of Afghans that used to work for Spaniards. These were flown out by a Spanish A.400M, late in the evening: total of 48. Another flight then evacuated about 100.

Turkey

  • A.400Ms are flying in and out, but I can’t find any precise info, right now.
  • 1 THK A.400M was refused permission to land, today (20 Aug) late in the afternoon. Reasons unknown.
  • Turkish Army has a total of 650 troops drawn from the 2 Bolu Commando Brigade and 5 Hakkari Brigade, reinforced by 200 Azerbaijani Army troops, deployed for protection of the Kabul IAP’s perimetre.
C-17 Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-17A Globemaster III 60th Air Mobility Wing / 349th Air Mobility Wing, 21st Airlift Squadron, 06-6160 – Travis AFB, CA

USA

  • The Pentagon has declared this a ‘non-combat evacuation operation’…. ho-hum…
  • since 14 August, the Pentagon claims to have evacuated 9,000 (including around 3,000 yesterday)
  • re involved aircraft: sigh… except ‘lots of C-17As’ (about 20 flights are undertaken a day), no clear info…
  • Ground units are including 2nd Bn/1st Marines (Cp Pendleton), 1st Bn/8th Marines (Cp Lejeune), both already present ‘in the region’; then the 1st Combined Army Bn/194th Armor Rgt (Minnesota National Guard), one ready battalion and then an entire ready brigade of the 82nd Airbrone Division, and (yet to be confirmed) elements of the 10th Mountain Division.
  • There are certainly diverse special forces assets around: their presence is confirmed by activities of MH-60M Black Hawk, MH-47G Chinook, and AH/MH-6 Little Bird helicopters – mostly from the 160th SO Aviation Regiment, US Army.
  • what’s sure is that the PMC contracted to support the State Department has abandoned all seven of CH-46E Sea Knights it used to operate in Afghanistan. These included the example with the registration 154038/N38TU, which – while still operated by the USMC – was involved in the Operation Frequent Wind (evacuation of Saigon, in 1975)… guess, many there would prefer to forget both affairs….
  • HH-60Ls operated by the same ‘wing’ of the State Department have all been withdrawn.
  • There are considerations of the USA securing the (abandoned) Baghram AB, north of Kabul, to enable more people to be flown out – but there’s definitely no ‘political will’ to do so.
  • F/A-18E/Fs from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) are flying top cover (via Pakistan)

Ironically, many of Afghans flown out by the USA are brought to el-Udeid AB in Qatar – primary sponsor of the Taliban and housing the ‘Taliban government in exile’ for years – and herded inside a big hangar ‘pending further processing’.

As far as I was able to collect info and calculate, since Sunday, 15 August, at least 12 people were killed at the Kabul IAP. Some while falling off the aircraft after take-off, others by US, Turkish and other troops deployed there.

Overall number of evacuated so far: between 18,000 (as of the last night), over 20,000 (as of this morning).

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

USAF investigating Afghan deaths, human remains discovered in wheel well of C-17 that took off from Kabul
The departure of a C-17 with a mob surrounding it as it taxied at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) via Wikipedia and U.S. Navy


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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper, from Austria, is a military-aviation journalist and historian. Following a career in a worldwide transportation business — in which, during his extensive travels in Europe and the Middle East, he established excellent contacts — he moved into writing. An earlier fascination with post-Second World War military aviation has narrowed to focus on smaller air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives of material. Concentrating primarily on air warfare that has previously received scant attention, he specializes in investigative research on little-known African and Arab air forces, as well as the Iranian Air Force. Cooper has published 21 books — including the unique Arab MiGs' series, which examines the deployment and service history of major Arab air forces in conflicts with Israel — as well as over 200 articles on related topics, providing a window into a number of previously unexamined yet fascinating conflicts and relevant developments.

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