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Aircraft in Hawaii might aid Afghanistan pullout

  • VERIFIED UGC VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Hundreds of people ran alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moved down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, today. Thousands of Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death.

    VERIFIED UGC VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Hundreds of people ran alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moved down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, today. Thousands of Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death.

  • JIM HUYLEBROEK/THE NEW YORK TIMES
                                Afghans and travelers passed through checkpoints at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan ahead of the Taliban’s arrival, Aug. 15.

    JIM HUYLEBROEK/THE NEW YORK TIMES

    Afghans and travelers passed through checkpoints at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan ahead of the Taliban’s arrival, Aug. 15.

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele said he is “deeply concerned over the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the crisis unfolding in the capital city of Kabul” with about 2,500 U.S. troops now at the overwhelmed Kabul airport, about 6,000 expected to be there within two to three days, and a massive evacuation airlift operation planned.

Disturbing video emerged of hundreds of Afghans running around and ahead of a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jet at Kabul airport as it taxied for takeoff. Some were seen climbing onto covered landing gear sections of the big plane.

Eyewitness reports said two to three men fell off the C-17 as it became airborne. U.S. Army Apache attack helicopters were seen flying low to try to clear large groups of people off the runway for the takeoff.

“Decisions made by previous and current administrations have put the United States in a calamitous situation and swift, decisive decisions must be made immediately,” Kahele said in a release Sunday. “Now is not the time to point fingers and find blame; instead, we must be unified in immediate solutions to evacuate American citizens and our Afghan allies and ensure their safety.”

Kahele, a Hawaii Democrat from Hilo, said that as a Hawaii National Guardsman and C-17 pilot who was deployed to Afghanistan multiple times in support of air mobility operations, including aeromedical evacuation operations, “I believe that we must immediately initiate noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) through United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) whereby activating all available air mobility assets worldwide necessary to evacuate all American civilians and Afghan allies immediately.”

He also said it was necessary to secure the entire Hamid Karzai International Airport with the 82nd Airborne Division and “additional forces if necessary before it becomes too difficult to accomplish that mission. Finally, we need to deploy a robust Tanker Airlift Control Element (TALCE) to provide the operational mission support elements to safely and effectively execute this monumental no-notice air evacuation.”

Some Air Force airlift wings have been put on standby notice for possible evacuation missions to Kabul airport. It was not immediately clear if C-17s at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam will be participating in that effort. The 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam referred an inquiry to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“Now is not the time to deliberate courses of action, we must act swiftly,” Kahele said in the release. “I urge the administration to airlift our Afghan partners, their families and those who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) to the United States Pacific Territory of Guam as was suggested two months ago. The United States must provide a path for safety for those who worked alongside our troops. Failure to do so will have long term consequences that may be too difficult to overcome in future conflicts.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said today that some of the steps called for by Kahele are now in motion. Kirby said that “out of an abundance of caution, there are no flights coming or going, military or civilian” because of large crowds on the southern, civilian side of Kabul airport. The military side is the northern part of the airfield.

There are 2,500 U.S. troops at the airport, with the 3rd Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division, which was headed to Kuwait, expected to arrive over the next 24 hours.

Kirby said that addition and a Marine expeditionary unit should push the total to 3,000. Within several days the total U.S. force at the airport is expected to be about 6,000, he said.

The embassy was closed “so all our military presence right now is focused on the airport,” he said. Air operations were expected to be restored “in the coming hours.”

There have been incidents on the airfield “involving armed individuals shooting at U.S. forces” and in two such cases, “U.S. forces did respond to hostile threats, and that resulted in the death of two armed individuals,” Kirby said.

He said that once security is re-established, air evacuations can resume both on the civilian side and the military side of the airport.

The Defense Department indicated it could fly out 5,000 or more people per day “on literally a couple dozen or more sorties per day,” Kirby said. The C-17 Globemaster III can carry about 300 passengers, he said.

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