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Air Force says crew members not responsible for Afghan deaths during evacuation: NPR


Taliban fighters stand guard outside Hamid Karzai International Airport following the U.S. withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021.

Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP


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Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP

Air Force says crew members not responsible for Afghan deaths during evacuation: NPR

Taliban fighters stand guard outside Hamid Karzai International Airport following the U.S. withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021.

Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP

WASHINGTON — The Air Force has concluded that crew members acted appropriately and were not responsible for some tragic deaths during last year’s chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, when Afghans desperate people clung to a military plane as it took off and fell to their deaths or were caught in the wheels.

In a statement Monday, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said inquests into the deaths found the crew “exercised good judgment in their decision to lift off as quickly as possible. in the face of an unprecedented and rapidly deteriorating security situation”.

Videos and other reports from that day clearly show Afghans harassing Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, eager to get out of the country when the Taliban took control and US forces withdrew. The C-17 transport plane was surrounded as it landed on the tarmac, and military officials said the crew feared the plane was overwhelmed, so they decided to take off.

As the plane took off, cellphone video captured two tiny dots falling from the plane. Later it became clear that the dots were Afghans who had tried to hide in the wheel arch. As the wheels folded back into the plane’s body, the stowaways were faced with the choice of being crushed to death or letting go and plummeting to the ground.

Human remains were found in the wheel arch when the plane landed at al-Udeid air base in Qatar.

“It was a tragic event and our hearts go out to the families of those who died,” Stefanek said. She said the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations looked into the incident and then turned the scene over to authorities in Qatar, who declined to investigate further.

“The airmanship and quick-wittedness of the crew ensured the safety of the crew and their aircraft,” Stefanek said. “After seeking appropriate care and services to deal with any trauma from this unprecedented experience, the crew has returned to flight status.”

It is still unclear how many have been killed. Videos show the two dots falling from the plane in flight, seconds apart. But two bodies landed on the same roof at the same time, suggesting they fell together, so the other figure seen falling in the videos could be at least one other person.

The Afghans later identified one of those who fell on the roof as Fida Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist. And local media said the second body was identified as a young man named Safiullah Hotak. At least one other person died on the tarmac, crushed under the wheels of the C-17.


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