Operation Allies Refuge

Operation Allies Refuge was a United States military operation to airlift certain at-risk Afghan civilians, particularly interpreters, U.S. embassy employees, and other prospective Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants from Afghanistan during the final days of the 2001–2021 War in Afghanistan.[10][11] U.S. personnel also helped NATO and regional allies in their respective evacuation efforts from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the country's capital of Kabul. The operation was concurrent with the larger American military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the multinational evacuation of eligible foreigners and vulnerable Afghans.

Operation Allies Refuge
Part of the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan, the 2021 Taliban offensive and the War in Afghanistan
PAX Terminal at Kabul International Airport Image 3 of 8.jpg
TypeNon-combatant evacuation operation (NEO)
Afghanistan, Qatar
Commanded byRear Admiral Peter Vasely
ObjectiveEvacuation of U.S. citizens, embassy staff, and allied Afghan nationals
DateFirst phase: July 14–August 15, 2021
Second phase: August 15 – 30 August 2021
Executed by United States
Outcome123,000 people evacuated
Casualties195+ killed[1][2][3]
  • 175+ Afghan civilians, 13 U.S. service members, and 3 British nationals killed during a suicide bombing at the airport[4]
  • 11 Afghan civilians killed during stampedes at the airport[5][6]
  • 6 Afghan civilian stowaways killed (one outside of Afghanistan)[7]
  • 2 unknown gunmen killed by U.S. troops[8]
  • 1 Afghan guard killed during a gunfight[9]

SIV applicants were airlifted to the United States, where they were temporarily housed by the U.S. military while they completed their SIV requirements.

Operational historyEdit

Temporary meal service and processing facilities for Afghan special immigrant visa applicants at Fort Lee, Virginia, July 2021

The operation's name was unveiled on 14 July 2021 by the Biden administration.[10][12] On 22 July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs (ALLIES) Act to increase the visa cap for Afghan interpreters and to expedite the Afghan SIV process.[13][14][clarification needed]

On 30 July, the first group of 221 Afghan interpreters arrived at Fort Lee, Virginia, for SIV processing, with at least 20,000 SIV holders and applicants still to be moved from Afghanistan.[10][12][15][16]

On 12 August, following continued Taliban victories across Afghanistan, the Biden administration announced that it would deploy 3,000 U.S. troops to Hamid Karzai International Airport to help evacuate embassy personnel, U.S. nationals and SIV applicants.[17][18] On 13 August, Marines and Army National Guardsmen from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 194th Armored Regiment arrived in Kabul. On 17 August, Army paratroopers from 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division moved from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Kabul. Another 1,000 Air Force and Army personnel were to deploy in Qatar to process SIV applicants. Meanwhile, U.S. embassy staff in Kabul were destroying sensitive materials and items featuring embassy logos or U.S. flags, standard procedure during a drawdown. Helicopters shuttled people between the embassy compound and Kabul International Airport.[19][20]

As of 26 August, Ramstein Air Base, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels, Spangdahlem Air Base and Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Germany, Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and Naval Station Rota in Spain also participated.[21]

Kabul airliftEdit

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III evacuates 823 fleeing Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 15 August 2021.
U.S. soldiers and Marines assist with security at an evacuation control checkpoint at Kabul Airport, 19 August
82nd Airborne Division paratroopers carrying supplies for Afghan families at Kabul Airport, 26 August 2021
U.S. soldiers board a C-17 during final departures from Kabul Airport, 30 August 2021.

On 15 August, Kabul fell to the Taliban. Afghan security forces fled the capital and thousands of Afghan civilians hurried to the airport in hopes of boarding flights, resulting in chaotic scenes of Afghans attempting to force themselves aboard military planes. The Pentagon and the State Department said the military force at the airport would expand to nearly 6,000 troops.[22] U.S. military took control over the security and air traffic control of the airport later in the day.[23] At this point, Operation Allies Refuge became concurrent with a new effort to airlift all SIV applicants, embassy personnel, American nationals, and eligible Afghans seeking to flee the country.[citation needed]

On 16 August, a C-17 cargo plane, whose usual passenger load is fewer than 150 Army paratroopers, safely evacuated roughly 823 people to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, setting a new record for the C-17. (The initial count was roughly 640,[24] but U.S. Air Force officials later said they had not initially counted children sitting in their parents' laps on the buses.[25]) The Pentagon confirmed that the head of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., met Taliban leaders based in Qatar's capital Doha. The Taliban officials agreed to terms set by McKenzie for refugees to flee using Kabul Airport.[26][27] U.S. Army Maj. General William Taylor said that nine C-17s arrived overnight, bringing equipment and 1,000 more troops. Separately, seven C-17s airlifted 700 to 800 passengers out of the airport, 165 of which were American citizens while the rest were SIV applicants and third-country nationals.[28]

On 17 August, about 1,100 people were evacuated on 13 flights. The White House said more than 3,200 U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees were evacuated from the country, and nearly 2,000 Afghan interpreters were flown to the U.S. for SIV processing.[29] On August 18, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said U.S. military flights evacuated about 2,000 people, and said it has processed more than 4,840 people for evacuation. The State Department said the U.S. military has evacuated nearly 5,000 people from the country.[30] On August 19, more than 2,000 people were evacuated on 12 flights. The Pentagon said it has evacuated about 7,000 people from the country.[31][32]

It was reported on 19 August that U.S. forces had rescued Mohammad Khalid Wardak, a high-profile Afghan police chief that had worked extensively with U.S. special forces in its war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. According to Robert McCreary, a former congressional chief of staff and White House official under George W. Bush, Khalid and his family were rescued via helicopter by U.S. forces in a night-time operation named Operation Promises Kept. Khalid had lost contact with rescuers while evading Taliban forces for days in Kabul after he was unable to reach the airport following the government's collapse, and his supporters in the U.S. military had chosen to evacuate him as his vocal opposition to the Taliban made him at high-risk of reprisals. McCreary said that Khalid and his family were "safe in an undisclosed location" and added that multiple allies, including the British, had helped in the operation's success.[33]

On 20 August, about 5,700 people were evacuated on 16 flights. The Pentagon said it has evacuated about 12,700 people from the country.[34] On 21 August, United States Army Major General William D. Taylor announced that 17,000 people have been evacuated in the past few weeks, including 2,500 Americans.[35] The Taliban has at times blocked evacuation efforts made by the United Kingdom.[36]

On 22 August, President Joe Biden said that American troops may remain in Afghanistan past the August 31 deadline. He also announced that 28,000 people have been evacuated since 15 August, and that 33,000 people have been evacuated since July.[37]

Also on 22 August, the Department of Defense ordered the activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to assist in the evacuation.[38] The current activation is for 18 planes: four from United Airlines; three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; and two from Hawaiian Airlines. Commercial airline pilots and crews would help transport thousands of Afghans who are arriving at U.S. bases in Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. From the bases in the Middle East, the airliners would augment military flights carrying Afghans to Germany, Italy, Spain and other stops in Europe, and then ultimately to the United States.[39][40][41]

On 23 August, United States Army Major General William D. Taylor announced that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, was ready to receive Afghan evacuees in addition to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Lee, Virginia. Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said the goal was to be able to receive about 25,000 evacuees in coming weeks.[42]

On 25 August, Blackwater founder Erik Prince offered to charge $6,500 for anyone who wanted to evacuate from Kabul.[43] That same day, the total amount of evacuations topped 82,300.[44]

Although the Taliban's conquest of the country led to the disintegration of the Afghan Armed Forces, an armed remnant of mostly 500 to 600 Afghan Commandos were at the airport helping U.S. troops provide perimeter security. The Pentagon said these Afghan troops would be evacuated if they desired.[45]

On 27 August, the Department of Defense announced that three more U.S. military bases will be used to house up to 50,000 Afghan nationals who are applying for SIVs or are deemed "at risk" from the Taliban: Fort Pickett, Holloman Air Force Base and Marine Corps Base Quantico.[46]

Operation Allies WelcomeEdit

Afghan refugees resettled per 100K residents after the 2021 Afghan withdrawal and evacuation in each U.S. state and the District of Columbia according to CBS News

On 29 August 2021, President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to lead Operation Allies Welcome, a civilian-led continuation of Allies Refuge with the task of managing the resettlement of refugees and providing "temporary housing, sustainment, and support inside the United States" for evacuees. DHS established the Unified Coordination Group allowing for collaboration with military, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector during Allies Welcome activities.[47][48]

On 5 September, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said that around 100 Americans remained in Afghanistan. Klain said that the Biden administration would look for ways to rescue them.[49]

On 10 September, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in a statement that 21 Americans and 11 legal citizens had evacuated from the country as the Taliban were allowing some departures.[50]


By 26 August, at least 195 people had been killed at or near the Kabul International Airport as thousands of people tried to forcibly board planes. The majority were killed by a suicide bombing.[1][2][3]

Six people were killed after trying to escape as stowaways: two people were seen falling to their deaths from the sky after clinging to the landing gear of a departing C-17 cargo plane, while three people clinging to the side of an Air Force jet were killed after being run over.[51][52][53] Remains of another dead Afghan were found in the landing gear of the American C-17, after the pilots were forced to make an emergency landing in a nearby country because they were unable to retract the landing gear.[54][55][56] Eleven more civilians died during stampedes at the airport, seven of whom died in a single incident on August 21.[6][5] The Taliban occasionally fired shots at the airport as a form of crowd control; some people reportedly received gunshot wounds from the gunfire.[57] Three more people died during gun incidents, including two armed men who fired into a crowd and were killed by U.S. troops,[8][58] while the other was an Afghan guard killed during a gunfight between Afghan forces and unknown gunmen.[9]

At least 182 people were killed and more than 200 others were wounded during a suicide bombing attack at the airport on August 26.[59] The attack was carried out by Islamic State militants. At least 169 Afghan civilians and 13 US service members were among the killed. The dead Americans were identified as eleven marines, one soldier, and one Navy corpsman.[60] Several more foreign troops and Taliban members were among the injured.[61][62] Three of the dead Afghan civilians were also British citizens.[63]

On 2 September, a nine-month-old baby died after arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, making her the first death of an evacuee on American soil.[64]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit

  Media related to Operation Allies Refuge at Wikimedia Commons