On 15 August 2021, when the Taliban announced victory by taking over Afghanistan under their control, the Afghanistan evacuation became inevitable. Here was the end of twenty years-long war between Taliban and US cum NATO forces.
Some countries like America and Britain started their evacuation efforts advanced, as they knew what the situation would be. The withdrawal of NATO and US forces from collapsed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan made evacuating foreign people and some unprotected Afghans urgent.
The main challenge of Afghanistan evacuation operations was that it had been given a deadline of 31 August 2021. Most of the procedures were completed within that time frame.
1. Afghanistan Evacuation – Context and Background
One of the longest wars in US military history, the Afghanistan War, has been sustained from 2001 to 2021. The NATO-backed US troops fought for two decades to take control of the Taliban from Afghanistan.
The 11 September Attack, in 2021 was the root of this conflict. US President George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan with US and British forces to make it Taliban-free and capture Osama Bin Laden. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployment, Operation Enduring Freedom, and some other operations ignited the war.
This war took so many lives but ultimately the mission was unsuccessful. We saw so many ups and downs during this two-decade-long war. In February 2020 Taliban signed Doha Agreement with the Trump administration and make them agreed to withdraw American troops by 1st May 2021.
The deadline changed repeatedly and the Biden administration decided the final withdrawal date as 31 August 2021.
- During these days the Taliban took control of most of the districts of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Army surrendered.
- The Afghan Government was on the threshold of dismissal.
- Finally, on 15 August 2021, the Taliban announced their victory and the Ashraf Ghani Government collapsed.
- They took control and seized the capital except for the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul.
- In this situation the necessity of Afghanistan evacuation became irresistible.
- US and UK deployed their forces to take control of the Kabul airport to make the evacuation process smoother, faster, and safer.
2. Afghanistan Evacuation – Participating Countries
The main participating countries in the Afghanistan evacuation were:
The United States, The United Kingdom, India, Germany, France, Australia, Finland, Belgium, Canada, Austria, Denmark, The Czech Republic, Japan, Ireland, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Italy, Ukraine, and Singapore.
Some other participating countries were:
Pakistan, New Zealand, Switzerland, Romania, Norway, Lithuania, Turkey, Netherlands, Sweden, Slovenia, Russia, Spain, Slovakia, Portugal, the Philippines, South Korea, Poland, and Luxembourg.
3. Whom Was Evacuated
Initially, US citizens, US Permanent residents, Special immigrant visa holders working as US force interpreters, Afghans eligible working with various American operations and missions, and Afghan women and minorities in threat were evacuated on a priority basis.
Thereafter, US embassy officials, other foreign nationals and their families, and Afghan citizens willing to move out of the country escaped through the Afghanistan evacuation process.
4. Afghanistan Evacuation – Vital Operations
Some countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada played the lead role in the Afghanistan evacuation process in August 2021 and ran many operations. In this segment, we are going to look back at the vital operations.
4.1. Operation Allies Refuge (United States)
4.1.1. History and Background
One of the largest airlifts operation ever in August 2021, Operation Allies Refuge by the US armed force evacuated more than 124,334 people. The evacuees were including US citizens, other foreign country citizens, and vulnerable Afghans.
President Biden conceived this operation on 14 July 2021 to evacuate the applicant and holders of SIV (Special Immigration Visa). About 17000 applicants were waiting for the SIV program during this two-decade-long war.
4.1.2. Beginning of Airlift
The first flight departed from Kabul on 29 July carrying 221 Afghan interpreters.
After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, a C-17 cargo airbus evacuated 823 people to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on 16 August 2021.
Furthermore, seven C-17 airbus carried out 700-800 special immigrant visa applicants including 165 US citizens from HKIA on the same night.
Biden administration felt that the evacuation process speed should be exceeded and sent more flights and army troops. On 17 August 2021, 13 flights airlifted about 3200 people including permanent residents, and American citizens
- Operation Allies Refuge continued up to 27 August 2021 and evacuated more than 122,000 people to the United States.
- On 29 August 2021, the Biden administration decided to start ‘Operation Allies Welcome’ to facilitate the settlement process of the refugees. Department of Homeland Securities supported the Afghan evacuees with temporary shelter and other necessities.
- The US government passed a refugee admissions program to execute the settlement process of the evacuees.
4.2. Operation Pitting (United Kingdom)
British Government initiated Operation Pitting to evacuate eligible Afghans and British nationals from Afghanistan in the August 2021 crisis. Since the time of the second world war, this airlift was the largest in the history of the United Kingdom.
Operation Pitting rescued about 15000 people with the help of more than 600 military personnel. The British force’s 16 Air Assault Brigade conducted this operation with 100 flights. The evacuee included 8000 Afghans and 5000 British nationals.
4.3. Operation Devi Shakti (India)
Indian Armed Forces carried out Operation Devi Shakti to evacuate stranded Indians and foreign nationals from the Taliban fell Afghanistan.
- They evacuated about 800 people including Indian and foreign personnel.
- Indian Armed Force airlifted the first 40 people from Kabul Airport to Delhi on 16 August 2021.
- Then, Indian Air Force did a commendable job rescuing 168 people by C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.
- Afterward, C130J IAF aircraft evacuated 89 Indians including 2 Nepalese to Dushanbe and safely landed in India the next day by a particular Air India flight.
- Finally, on 21 August, they brought back 78 people to India from Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. They were airlifted from Kabul on the previous day.
- In this way, India took a vital role in the process of Afghanistan Evacuation.
4.4. Operation AEGIS (Canada)
Canadian Armed Forces carried out Operation AEGIS to evacuate the definitive Afghan Nationals and their family members from Afghanistan.
Previously they started their evacuation mission on 4 August 2021 with the Government of Canada’s Chartered flights and military flights and rescued some Afghan evacuees. Next, on 19 August, they decided to collaborate with US airlift Operation Allies Refuge.
Finally, up to 26 August 2021, Operation AEGIS managed to evacuate 3700 at-risk Afghans in the process of Afghanistan evacuation.
4.5. Operation Miracle (South Korea)
The Republic of Korean Armed Forces conducted Operation Miracle to evacuate the Afghans working with the South Korean Government from Taliban fell Afghanistan. They rescued about 391 nationals with the help of C-130J and K-330 aircraft of the South Korean Air Force on 15-17 August 2021.
Initially, the Korean Armed Forces took them away to Qatar and then to South Korea. The government provided three months visa to the evacuee first and announced a long-term visa later.
4.6. Operation Apagan (France)
The French Armed Forces carried out Operation Apagan to airlift the French and European nationals and at-risk Afghans during the Afghanistan Evacuation. The process continued from 15 August to 29 August 2021, saving about 2834 people, including 2600 Afghans, 62 Europeans, and 140 Frenches.
First, Lockheed C-130J, Airbus A400M, and Lockheed C-130H these three types of aircraft were used in this operation to airlift people from Kabul Airport to Abu Dhabi. Afterward, they carried these people to Paris by Airbus A-330 MRTT and Airbus A-310 MRTTs.
Finally, Operation Apagon successfully evacuated all the French Police personnel, soldiers working in Afghanistan, and the French Embassy staff in Afghanistan on 29 August 2021.
4.7. Operation Red Kite (Belgium)
Belgium’s government started Operation Red Kite to evacuate Belgians and other vulnerable people from Kabul to Islamabad. It was on 20 August 2021 by C-130 aircraft. The operations were performed by setting up a double air bridge between Islamabad and Brussels and between Kabul and Islamabad.
The crucial 7-day-long operation was compelled to end on 25 August due to a suicide attack on HKIA and leaving of US Army troops.
Four teams handled this operation: 1. Kabul Airport evacuation operations, 2. General coordination center managed by the embassy itself, 3. Islamabad airport transit operations, and 4. Military command center.
Finally, Operation Red Kite managed to rescue about 1434 people. They were including 1000 Belgian nationals and their family members and the rest vulnerable people from Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, the United States of America, and Luxemburg.
4.8. Operation Antigona (Spain)
Spain had conducted Operation Antigona I, II, and III to evacuate its Afghan collaborators from Kabul.
Per Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares, they evacuated about 3900 Afghan collaborators and played a significant role in Afghanistan Evacuation.
On 21 July Spain successfully evacuated the last plane from Afghanistan. Since the fall of Kabul by the Taliban on August 2021, Spain was one of the last countries that leave Afghanistan. To recheck that no one is left in Afghanistan, Spain continued their evacuation process.
Between 2021 and 2022, Spain contributed 33.8 million Euros, and for 2023 pledged 4 million Euros.
4.9. Operation Kokako (New Zealand)
To safely evacuate the eligible Afghan nationals, resident visa holders, and New Zealand citizens from Hamid Karzai Internation Airport (HKIA), Kabul, NZDF ( New Zealand Defence Force ) conducted Operation Kokako.
With the help of the United Arab Emirates and the Australian Defence Force, NZDF completed its operation safely and quickly. They ended their operation under the 96 hours deadline. The Evacuee Handling Center (EHC) of NZDF was at Al Minhad Air Base (AMAB) in UAE.
Finally, Operation Kokato managed to rescue about 125 Australian and New Zealand citizens from Kabul Airport by 30 August 2021. It was only possible with the help of C-130H aircraft, which took a vital role in the process of Afghanistan Evacuation.
4.10. Operation Aquila Omnia (Italy)
Italian government launched Operation Aquila Omnia to evacuate Italian citizens and eligible Afghans after the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021 by the Taliban.
Before that, they were conducting an evacuation process through Operation Aquila (Eagle) and managed to rescue about 230 Afghan collaborators and their families by June.
Italian Air Force installed four C-130J cargo aircraft in Al Mubarak Air Base, Kuwait to perform the evacuation process from Kabul. On the other hand, three KC767A were ready in Kuwait to transport the evacuees to Italy.
According to an Italian news agency, this crucial operation in the process of the Afghanistan Evacuation rescued more than 1500 people.
4.11. Operation Saman (Hungary)
Hungary’s government conducted Operation Saman to evacuate the people in distress in Afghanistan in the August 2021 crisis.
They arranged to rescue the Afghan, Hungarian, American, and Austrian nationals from Kabul to Uzbekistan and afterward to Budapest.
Since the beginning of the NATO mission in 2003, Hungary deployed its military forces in Afghanistan.
As per the Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benko, Operation Saman airlifted about 540 people including the Afghans and their families who were part of Hungarian troops, and Hungarian nationals by two military passenger planes.
5. Outcomes of the Afghanistan Evacuation
On 31 August 2021, after the end of the Afghanistan Evacuation, the Taliban entered Kabul Airport and the gun fired in the air to declare a free Afghanistan. Holding a press meeting they announced that they would declare a new government shortly.
US President Joe Biden talked with the Taliban government to let the rest evacuees be rescued and made a proper way to release the people who wanted to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban Government agreed to do so and released some people afterward.
Finally, Afghanistan War (2001-2021) came to an end and Afghanistan Evacuation airlifted more than 122,000 people abroad.
End of the Line
Summing up, no other airlift was as big as Afghanistan Evacuation in history so far. It was not possible to evacuate such a huge number of people without the lead role of the Military forces of the United States, and some other countries. Their continuous tireless and selfless efforts with great energy and bravery made it happen.
The American government took it as their moral responsibility to handle such a vast and risky process to safeguard the lives of enormous people.
They not only relocated the people but also arranged for temporary and permanent visas for them to stay in their country. The US administration provided needful shelter and food to the evacuees.
The US government launched a refugee admissions program and initiated the process of rehabilitation through a refugee resettlement plan. Some other countries also took the necessary steps for Afghan refugees.
We pray to god, that this type of situation might never come again in the future. And that the global peace process to be continued at its rhythm to make this world more beautiful to live in.