US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Thursday they were “unaware” of an attempted hijacking of a flight out of Kabul during the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal and evacuation, despite “thoroughly reviewing” and approving an Air Force report published Tuesday describing the incident. On Friday, CENTCOM deleted the account entirely from the Air Force report.
CENTCOM spokeswoman LT Josie Lynne Lenny told CNN in a statement Thursday that she is “unaware of any attempt to hijack a plane at Hamid Karzai International airport.”
“During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, an intel tip indicated the possibility of a plot to hijack a particular flight that was preparing to depart the airfield,” her statement continued. “Ground traffic controllers diverted the plane to a safe location on the airfield where security forces boarded the plane and determined that there was no active attempt to hijack the aircraft.”
On Tuesday, Air Force public affairs officer Lt. Col. Kristen Duncan published a report on an attempted hijacking that occurred during the botched evacuation. According to Duncan, airmen from the personnel recovery task force began tracking passengers leaving Kabul on US Air Force C-17s.
“On one occasion after they received an intel tip, five people onboard one of the commercial flights intended to hijack the aircraft,” Duncan wrote. As of Friday afternoon, her account still remained in copies of the original Air Force report reposted to base websites.
“’Our team worked to get them clear of the NATO ramp, relocated to the north side away from friendly forces, then ultimately onto the south side where the situation was handled,'” she continued, quoting Lt. Col. Brian Desautels, commander of the 71st Rescue Squadron who was also leading airmen in at the airport.
“One of our captains was on the rooftop taking effective sniper fire,” Desautels said. “Every enemy combatant was taking every opportunity to incite more chaos in what was already a chaotic event.”
Both the paragraphs about the hijacking plot and the sniper fire were stripped from Duncan’s original report on Friday afternoon.
Duncan’s report included a note that CENTCOM had both “thoroughly reviewed” and approved the report on October 6 “for operational security.” CENTCOM did not mention the review to CNN.
The report also states that both the Defense and State Departments “sent messages to American citizens and commanders warning of an imminent attack at the gates Thursday morning, Aug. 26.”
“Many of our Airmen had just been pulling AMCITs, coalition partners and SIVs at Abbey Gate,” Desautels said. “The harrowing work speaks to the Airmen of Rescue, who live for the mission to its core.”
The Airmen saved at least 50 people prior to 2 p.m. while the Marines worked security. Abbey Gate was “packed with over 10,000 people when it was bombed” at around 6 p.m. local time. After the explosion, terrorists also engaged with “small arms fire.”
“There were lots of very badly injured people hurt … lots of blood,” he said. “The surgeons were worn out. Many died on the operating table.”
Eleven Marines, one Navy corpsman and one Army Soldier were killed in the attack.
This article was updated to reflect that CENTCOM updated the Air Force report to delete details of a hijacking plot and sniper fire amid evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport.