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The numbers behind the Kabul airlift

Nearly half of recent evacuations came from non-U.S. military flights

U.S. Air Force members prepare to load evacuees aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at the Kabul airport on Aug. 21. (Senior Airman Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force/AP)
Comment

Every morning for the past week or so, the White House has released numbers detailing the scope of the effort to airlift Americans and others out of Afghanistan. The data clearly had been meant to reinforce that the effort to bring threatened individuals to safety was moving forward at a staggering clip and, therefore, that reports about the chaos that preceded those evacuations were less dire. What the recent numbers also show is that the effort slowed in recent days, with nonmilitary flights making up a large percentage of the total.

Pulling the numbers from the daily updates shows that more than 100,000 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan since Aug. 1. The White House refers to this total as the number of people the United States evacuated or whose evacuation it “facilitated,” referring to those nonmilitary flights. The most evacuations happened in the 24-hour period ending Tuesday morning, when 21,600 people were evacuated. In the 24 hours before Thursday morning, the number was 13,400.

During his speech on Thursday afternoon, President Biden indicated that “another 7,000” had gotten out in the preceding 12 hours. (Those numbers are not included in the figure above.)

Again, the totals include “coalition” partners, a group the White House previously identified as including “partners, foreign military, and commercial airlines.” The military aircraft involved in the evacuations (which include C-130s and C-17s) carried far more people, averaging about 262 people per flight. But there were consistently more coalition flights, carrying an average of about 109 people each time. Over the past five days of data, about 45 percent of evacuees left Kabul on coalition aircraft. That includes 42 percent of those removed during the period that ended Tuesday.

Every at-risk individual removed from Afghanistan is a positive, of course. Of the 82,300 people who were evacuated by Wednesday morning, 4,500 were American, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. But the attack at the Kabul airport on Thursday and the waning number of evacuations reinforce the idea that many of the estimated 250,000 Afghans who had worked with the United States during the two-decade war won’t be evacuated before the end of the month.

It also raises questions about how many of the estimated 1,500 Americans who were still in the country as of Wednesday, not all of whom may be seeking exfiltration, will be able to escape. In his speech on Thursday, Biden indicated that, even after the Aug. 31 deadline set for withdrawal, he anticipated “numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan — either through means that we provide and or are provided through cooperation with the Taliban.”

One certainly hopes that’s accurate.

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