Pilots and crew members of the final five C-17 aircraft of the US Air Force to leave Afghanistan have described as “apocalyptic,” scenes near the Kabul airport as the United States finally ended its 20-year military presence in the country on August 30, day before a self-imposed deadline to do so.
“It just looked apocalyptic,” said Lieutenant Colonel Braden Coleman of the US Air Force, who was responsible for monitoring the outside of his aircraft for threats including artillery fire. “It was like one of those movies in which all the aeroplanes had been destroyed. There was a plane that was burned all the way. You could see its cockpit, while the rest of the plane resembled the skeleton of a fish,” Lt. Colonel Coleman remarked.
Meanwhile, Captain Kirby Wedan, who piloted the plane that led the formation of the final five aircraft out of Afghanistan, said that the situation was “definitely very tense.” The Air Force officer said, “We were definitely on the edge watching everything going on to make sure that we were ready. What added to our stress what that the planes were parked in such an area of the airport which had been attacked and breached in the past.”
Captain Wedan further revealed that during the night, a group of civilians entered the airfield and tried to board the aircraft but were stopped by US Army troops securing the planes.
General Jacqueline Van Ovost, the commander of the Air Mobility Command who was watching the final departure from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, said she could hear instructions being issued by Lt. Colonel Alex Pelbath, the mission commander for the final departure.
Finally, Major General Chris Donahue, identified by the Pentagon as the last serving member of the US military to leave Afghan soil, relayed the message, “Job well done. Proud of a you all.” Major General Donahue was the in-charge of security for the evacuation mission.
The group’s departure from Afghanistan meant that American forces were no longer present in the country after landing here following the 9/11 attacks. Their withdrawal was earlier scheduled to end by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks, but was preponed to August 31. President Joe Biden stood by the deadline despite pressure, both at home and from allies, to extend it by few more days.
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