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This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the aftermath of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago this week.
Some US troops told Fox News Digital what he was like on the ground at Kabul airport on the last day of the military retreat, talking about the difficult circumstances and inspiring attitude with which service members performed their daunting task.
“None of the photos I’ve seen do those crowds justice. Those crowds of righteous humanity stretched for miles outside all three gates once the gates were attacked,” William Callen, a retired US Marine gunner who helped with the ground-based logistics in Afghanistan, he recalled.
“We would not have had a position of mutual support if we had lost the airport. There was nowhere to fall back. It was the success of the mission or we would have died.”
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President Biden set a goal of withdrawing all US troops by September 11, 2021, but pushed for an early conclusion when the Taliban wiped out the countryside and overthrew the incumbent government. The raid only increased the chaos around Kabul as even ordinary citizens tried to flee the country before the Taliban could take control.
The situation resulted in the deaths of 13 US military service members and at least 170 Afghan civilians when an Isis-K suicide bomber attacked Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, 2021.
“A maritime expeditionary unit is the only one that is trained to reinforce embassies and actually do a non-combat evacuation operation … but no one is trained to this scale of what [the evacuation] turned into, “Callen explained, adding that the troops ended up” inventing tactics on the fly, minute by minute, hour by hour.
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“If a tactic to open a gate and start letting people in stopped working, we had to close the gate, come up with another tactic and hopefully it would work on the gate.”
Sergeant Nicholas Miller-Assous told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer that the goal over the past month had been to “evacuate as many people as possible,” with troops and officers asking at every step, “We can get more. ? Can we just take two more? ”
The United States continues to process Afghan refugees one year after the withdrawal ends. President Biden promised not to leave until every American citizen left the country, but reports soon revealed that at least 450 Americans remained in the country.
The lack of experience with such oppressive conditions did not, in fact, discourage the troops. 2nd Battalion 1st Marines sergeant and Marine Corps veteran Joe Laude said there was “always potential for hostile engagements,” but stressed that “these vulnerabilities have never deterred us from doing our job.
“During my experience over there, it definitely was [focused on] control certain individuals. I’ve always had guys by my side who were able to help push them back. ”
He called the situation a “great task” for which most soldiers “had no experience”.
The hardest part of the operation he could remember involved the constant rejection of people who did not have the proper documents or credentials, saying it was “essentially their death sentence”.
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“It was really difficult to force someone who was afraid for their life to go back to the exit where the Taliban were waiting for them,” he said. “You know, people who didn’t deserve it and just didn’t have the credentials. They were very, very good people, very honest and lively people … it was definitely a hard thing for a lot of us to do.”
Troops are still thinking about those final days in Kabul even a year later, so much so that Laude established Operation Allies Refuge Foundation to help veterinarians work on mental health issues and help Afghan refugees move through special visas. immigration (SIV) processes.
Callen recounted times during his tenure at Abbey Gate, the site of the now infamous bombing raid, where troops had to work under live fire simply because of their proximity to fleeing planes.
“We started getting hit by a Russian .50 caliber machine gun … we couldn’t see where they shot us, nor [could we] maneuver because we were in front of the airport. It was solved by security, “Callen explained.” And when you do things like security, you were always the prey because you can’t move.
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“They shot us for about three hours … we couldn’t return fire,” he continued. “Really, they were shooting planes on the tarmac [that] they were preparing for take-off and disappeared. And we would only have been on duty. ”
Callen was having dinner when he heard that Afghan citizens had swarmed into one of the American planes – about 7,000 people according to his estimate – and had to turn people off the planes.
“At that time, we had just under 200 US Marines on the east side of the airport … just under 200 Marines went out in the dark for a fist fight probably (5,000) against 7,000 Afghan civilians, and we had to push them back the entire airport. “, he said. “We tried to create a human tunnel and channel them out of the airfield, but the Taliban had set up a roadblock south of the civilian terminal. So the civilians were given a decision: Taliban bullets or our fists, and they chose the our fists. The civilians never left. “
US Air Force Colonel Colin McCloskey told Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin that the Air Force did “everything possible” to get into Kabul and get people out “without landing on people.”
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“Imagine that people run into a barrier with their families and everything they have, and they’re doing everything they can to get to safety,” McCloskey said. “In this case, security had a large American flag on the back.”