C-17 cargo jet leaving Afghanistan was carrying more evacuees — a lot more — than initially thought, USAF confirms

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On Twitter, Air Mobility Command clarified that the original count of 640 was based on the number of bus seats that were filled by Afghan citizens on buses departing the aircraft, but did not include any children sitting on the adults’ laps. (U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command)

(NEXSTAR) – A C-17 cargo plane that left Afghanistan on Aug. 15 was not actually carrying 640 evacuees, despite a previous report by the Department of Defense.

It was carrying 823.

The U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command issued a correction several days after the flight left Kabul’s airport, explaining that the original count didn’t include children.

“A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III safely transported 823 Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 15, 2021,” reads a news release issued by Air Mobility Command. “The initial count of 640 passengers included only adults, inadvertently leaving off 183 children seated in laps as passengers were transported from the flight line.”

The U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command issued a correction, explaining that the original count didn’t include children. (U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command)

On Twitter, Air Mobility Command clarified that the original count of 640 was based on the number of bus seats that were filled by Afghan citizens on buses departing the aircraft.

“The correct total passenger count of 823 is a record for the C-17,” added the Air Mobility Command.

The aircraft, an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, has an official capacity of 134 passengers.

After the photo was released, the Department of Defense confirmed that the flight never intended to carry such a large volume of Afghans leaving Kabul, but “the crew made the decision to go” after panicked refugees crowded into the plane via a half-open ramp, according to a defense official cited by Defense One.

While it’s rare that C-17 cargo planes are used for transporting so many people, it has been used for similar purposes in the past. One notable instance occurred in 2013, when a C-17 evacuated more than 670 people fleeing a typhoon in the Philippines. A photo of that, too, was shared by the U.S. Air Force at the time.

More than 670 residents of Tacloban City, in the Philippines, were evacuated to Manila on a C-17 Globemaster III in 2013 during Super Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. military has so far helped to evacuate over 70,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, according to numbers provided by the White House earlier this week. Armed forces will continue to evacuate Afghan refugees and Americans through Aug. 31, a deadline the Taliban has said it will not extend. There are currently about 1,500 American citizens still in Afghanistan, Reuters reported Thursday.  

“The mission has been to end on the 31st. That is the assumption that we are working towards,” said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.

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