PENTAGON – The U.S. Air Force released grim new details Tuesday from the evacuation chaos at the international airport in Kabul a day earlier, saying human remains were found in the wheel well of a military plane that was swarmed by civilians desperate to flee from the Taliban.
“In addition to videos seen online and in press reports, human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the C-17 after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement issued Tuesday. ”The aircraft is currently impounded to provide time to collect the remains and inspect the aircraft before it is returned to flying status.”
A U.S. official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, left open the possibility that individuals may have climbed into more than one of the C-17’s wheel wells before takeoff Monday.
Video from the airport shared on social media showed disorder and desperation, including some Afghans clinging to the sides of a U.S. military aircraft, and what appeared to be two people falling from a U.S. military plane after it took off.
Stefanek added in her statement that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) is leading a review of the incident, an investigation that was first reported by VOA.
“OSI’s review will be thorough to ensure we obtain the facts regarding this tragic incident. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased,” she said.
‘No hostile interactions’
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is communicating with the Taliban while ramping up the air evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies from the international airport in Kabul, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
“There’s been no hostile interactions from the Taliban to our operations at the airport,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
“Our commanders at the airport are in communication with Taliban commanders on the ground outside the airport,” he said, adding that communications had occurred “multiple times a day.”
Kirby did not elaborate, saying simply, “I would just let the results speak for themselves.”
Taliban insurgents led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were overthrown by U.S. and international forces.
Recently, they seized most of the country in a matter of weeks after launching a swift military campaign that caused many Afghan forces to flee or surrender.
General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, visited Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday and said it was “secure and now open to civilian air traffic operating under visual flight rules.”
“In meetings with Taliban senior leaders in Doha on Sunday, I cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces,” McKenzie said in a statement.
Major General William “Hank” Taylor told reporters at the Pentagon that nine U.S. C-17 military transport planes arrived with equipment and approximately 1,000 additional troops late Monday. He said by the end of Tuesday, the total number of U.S. forces on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport will be more than 4,000.
By Tuesday evening, officials said the U.S. has evacuated more than 3,200 people, including U.S. Embassy personnel, American, Afghan and third-country citizens. In addition, the U.S. has relocated nearly 2,000 Afghan special immigrants to the United States.
Kirby and Taylor stressed that the military aims to carry out an evacuation flight each hour starting Wednesday, which could potentially evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people from Afghanistan per day.
President Joe Biden is expected to speak on the situation in Afghanistan Wednesday during an interview with ABC News, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Source: Voice of America