Transport crew made right decision to leave Kabul airport amid chaotic withdrawal, Air Force says

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The U.S. Air Force has determined that the crew of a C-17 military transport plane made the right call to take off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, last August despite desperate civilians rushing the tarmac.

After the plane landed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the aircraft.

In a statement on Monday, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said the service found that the “aircrew had acted appropriately and exercised sound judgment in their decision to get airborne as quickly as possible when faced with an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan.

“The aircrew's airmanship and quick thinking ensured the safety of the crew and their aircraft,” she said.

Following the chaotic event on Aug. 16 — captured on video showing Afghans clinging to planes as they taxied the runway — the Air Force tasked its Office of Special Investigations to look into the episode. At the time, the service said OSI planned to review footage and social media posts related to fleeing civilians rushing the flight line, much of which made headlines and dominated news segments across the world showing Afghans risking their safety to escape the country hours after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

Other military offices conducted their own inquiries, including staff judge advocate offices within Air Mobility Command, which oversees the service’s transport fleet, and U.S. Central Command, the supervising authority for U.S. military operations in the Middle East.

The two commands “rendered concurring opinions that the aircrew was in compliance with applicable rules of engagement specific to the event and the overall law of armed conflict,” Stefanek said.

Qatar law enforcement did not pursue its own investigation, she said. Crewmembers returned to duty after they received services to “help cope with any trauma from this unprecedented experience,” she said. “Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased.”