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Pic: 600+ Afghans evacuated from Kabul on US C-17 cargo jet, reports say

C-17 Globemaster III assigned to Joint Base Charleston, S.C. at March Air Reserve Base, California, May 20, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)
August 16, 2021

Defense officials said a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III evacuated at least 640 Afghans from Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, which is believed to be the most people a C-17 has ever transported at one time, according to a new report by Defense One.

A defense official reportedly told Defense One that “the crew made the decision to go,” adding that “approximately 640 Afghan civilians disembarked the aircraft when it arrived at its destination.”

A photo shared with Defense One also appeared on the popular Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, which reportedly showed the aircraft packed with Afghan refugees.

Flight tracking software showed the C-17 aircraft with the call sign Reach 871 is from the 436th Air Wing based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Defense One said.

An earlier report from The Drive estimated that around 800 people were packed into the cargo jet in Kabul, as thousands swarmed the capital city’s international airport looking for an escape from the Taliban’s takeover.

The aircraft’s crew recognized the deteriorating situation and loaded as many people as the aircraft could carry before heading to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, according to The Drive.

Audio of satellite radio communications reportedly between the C-17 pilot and someone on the ground conveyed shock to hear the number of people on the military flight. “Ok, how many people do you think are on your jet? 800 people on our jet? Holy…Holy cow…Ok…,” a man’s voice says.

The officials speaking to Defense One said multiple flights departed Kabul with hundreds of people on board, and other flights may have been carrying even more than 640 people.

A video shared to social media showed panicked Afghans loading into a C-17 aircraft assumed to be Reach 871.

On Monday, the Pentagon said the State Department confirmed 700 Afghan Special Immigration Visa (SIV) applicants were flown out of Afghanistan in the last 48 hours, increasing the total of evacuated Afghan SIV applicants to approximately 2,000. The Pentagon added that its mission is to evacuate “hundreds” of Americans and U.S. Embassy staff and thousands more Afghan SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 7 people died in the chaos at the airport, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed two “armed Afghans” were killed by American troops near the airport after the suspects fired on Americans.

On Sunday, U.S. troops finalized the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and took over air traffic control operations at the nearby Hamid Karzai International Airport in order to coordinate evacuation flights out of the country.

The Pentagon also announced on Sunday the deployment of an additional 1,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, adding to the approximately 4,000 troops the Pentagon authorized to deploy last week and the 1,000 troops already deployed in the country prior to last week. On Monday, the Pentagon said 2,500 troops had moved into Kabul in the past 72 hours, and by the end of Monday, between 3,000 and 3,500 U.S. troops were expected on the ground. Currently, 6,000 U.S. troops are authorized to support the evacuation mission in Afghanistan.

The Taliban entered the Kabul outskirts earlier on Sunday. The militant group initially said they would wait at the city limits until the Afghan government could formally surrender. After reports broke that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country for Tajikstan, the Taliban began to enter the city and seized the Afghan presidential capital. On Sunday night after taking Kabul, Taliban leaders declared the war in Afghanistan was over.