Plane Takes Off With 800 Passengers As Desperate Afghans Flee Taliban

It was shocking when a Pakistan International Airlines flight took off with more passengers than seats four years ago (oops) and when a British family was forced to sit on the floor when they lacked seats on a flight out of Spain two years ago.

But a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane carried as many as 800 passengers out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, more than four times the number of people it would typically hold with cargo on board. (HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

This was hardly the only plane with more people than seats.

And with the Kabul airport under U.S. military control (but probably not secure), it’s largely been military planes airlifting people out of Afghanistan to the exclusion of commercial flights.

The scene at the airport has been desperate as people have tried to evacuate the country. Many couldn’t get to the airport, and those who made it needed to escape because they’d face Taliban checkpoints if they tried to return home.

It turns out that 800 passengers isn’t the most there’s ever been on a single plane. That record belongs to an El Al Boeing 747 flight which carried approximately 1080 passengers (there are varying reports of the exact number) out of Ethiopia as part of Operation Solomon in May 1991, a 36 hour effort to evacuate 14,325 Jews in advance of the government’s fall there.

Ultimately the U.S. spent $2.7 trillion over 20 years and lost lives yet failed to build institutions that could survive on their own. Continued U.S. presence wouldn’t have changed that. There weren’t nearly as many Afghan troops as the government claimed (and, in effect, billed the U.S. for) and many of those troops took Taliban payoffs to surrender. When we left, though, we abandoned those who had supported us. We should now take any Afghan civilians who are able to escape their circumstance and come here.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Pakistan will destabilize next due to Taliban interference. They have a substantial nuclear arsenal too, may be a very dangerous next 10-20 years for the region.

  2. I’ve been following this story. Very sad on a human level, and potentially very dangerous outside Afghanistan (although no one can be a prophet…)

    I believe president Biden needs to apologize to the Afghan allies who worked with the US, and to the American people for this epic blunder. Unfortunately, with the current hyper-partisan environment that’s not going to happen probably.

  3. No criticism for those who led us in to this or were too insipid to get us out. Everyone just piles on the one that ends the imbroglio. No wonder we’ve been in this situation multiple times.

  4. @BlackHill – our part of the creation of this is when we funded the Taliban against the Soviets in the 1980’s.
    POTUS Bush’s error was two-fold: first Iraq, then not listening to US Special Forces when the identified Osama Bin Laden was in Afghanistan and could be eliminated by a surgical strike.
    We chose instead nation building, and spent $88 Billion on training a country to defend itself, apparently without any return on investment.
    My sympathy goes first to our military and our dead, who for 20 years fought a war that would not be won.
    Then, to the Afghani people, who have suffered nothing but continuous war in modern times since the British.
    Finally, to the American people who will need to deal with the national debate of how many more American dead and how many billions dollars more could have “saved” the Afghani people.
    POTUS Trump brokered a deal with the Taliban for a withdrawal, POTUS Biden kept the deal that the USA agreed to.
    Such a waste. No victories at all for anyone. It will be another 20 years before we look back in hindsight to see what this all means.

  5. Every administration for the past 2 decades bears responsibility for what’s happening today as well as the military and CIA. The “mission” became muddled over the years and those tasked with carrying out the mission and assessing its risks were blindly optimistic. It will be years of soul searching again (Vietnam); the causes of the failure so complex that sound bites and newspaper articles will do it injustice.

  6. The ElAL rescue also had a couple of babies born midflight!
    These images will haunt America for a long time…

  7. The forced stuffing of women into Burqas have already begun, soon the beheadings of “traitors” will as well (waiting for US to pull out completely and then will probably begin).
    Next steps:
    – Throwing off rooftops / crucifying LGBT
    – Mass raping of women & marriage to child brides

    P.S – guess who came out a few hours ago to “congratulate” the Taliban on their victory – Hamas (their sister-sunni organization which runs Gaza now)

    Sick monsters. Vile. Evil.

  8. The American method of fighting is very expensive and technical, of which the Afghans cannot do. Too much technical education, parts/supplies, air support, back office things and other things that the Afghans did not have.

    For example, they lack payroll capabilities. They lack an usable air force. For example, it was found that US helicopters are too complex and they struggle with old Russian designs with US assistance. They lack good supply chain management. They lack training for old style (World War II type) fighting because the US military doesn’t fight that way but is effective if the fighting force is lower tech.

  9. Sadly, Afghanistan has been a country/region which multiple western powers have tried for years to control but always without success.
    The sheer number of Afghans trying to flee shows that the US did serve a purpose in restraining the Taliban and the world will pay a price for the destabilization of the region which is certain to come but none higher than the millions of Afghans that want no part of the Taliban. My heart goes out to those that face a very dark future.
    Those that argue that Biden inherited this would do well to remember that he changed dozens of policies within minutes of taking office; he could have done the same here and he also set his own accelerated timeline for withdrawal.
    Finally, from an aviation standpoint, it is very concerning that two major regions – Iran and Afghanistan – could be off limits for aviation. The implications for safe travel are very significant.

  10. If WW2 was fought the same way as we fight now, it would still be in progress. War should be avoided but, if inevitable, go Roman on their asses. Risking lives because we can’t do this or that is unforgivable.

  11. Tragic and unbearably sad.
    Someone had to pull the plug on this 20-year long vanity project and the last three presidents didn’t have the b*lls … they only talked about it because that’s what the vast majority of Americans wanted. But in the end, they did nothing.
    Doing hard stuff is hard. Glad we have a president who’s willing to take the lumps for making a hard but necessary decision. Enough is enough. Everyone knows it was time to leave and there was no easy way out.
    The old saying continues … Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Just ask Great Britian and the Soviet Union. You can’t force democracy at the end of a gun. At the end of the day, the choice belongs to the Afghans.

  12. @Zebraitis

    “POTUS Trump brokered a deal with the Taliban for a withdrawal, POTUS Biden kept the deal that the USA agreed to.”

    Just wondering … what parts of Trump’s plan of actions, established with the Taliban during his tenure as POTUS, did Biden actually follow, except to “get out” of Afghanistan? Why did Biden desire such a rapid and chaotic exit from Afghanistan?

    Are there any parallels with the way that the US exited Iraq back in 2011 under Obama/Biden? What did former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, say about Biden in his book? That Biden was on the WRONG side of every foreign policy? Was Robert Gates wrong about that?

    What will our allies in Asia now think about the credibility and commitment of the US to defend them against an increasingly aggressive China, after this Afghanistan debacle?

  13. @curiouscat

    I will provide that information for you, however this is info readily availsble as it is a US policy action.

    The BBC link has details of the Doha agreement brokered by the Trump administration in 2020.

    The second is a discussion in March of 2021 of the challenges likely to occur when keeping to our terms of that agreement.

    Again, no matter how you look at this our 20 year experiment of proactive nation-state building has been, in Afghanistan, a dismal failure.

    Blaming Biden would be the same as blaming the last firefighter leaving a collapsing, burning building for the fire itself.

    Blaming GW Bush is no better. As his advisors mislead him and recommended bad intelligence.

    Tragedy, all around.

  14. “What will our allies in Asia now think about the credibility and commitment of the US to defend them against an increasingly aggressive China, after this Afghanistan debacle?”

    Now?? Sorry but that ship, which was always half out of the dock, fully sailed in Jan.2017. It will be ages before we even begin to regain our credibility.

  15. This phony “presidential” administration has been one huge clusterf*ck after another!!! Lyin’ biden has screwed things up even faster than I had anticipated…. all that work, all that expense, all those lives lost, now it was all for NOTHING! Thanks to incompetent demokkkrat scum!

    To all those who supported gropin’ joe, are you happy with yourselves!?!? Idiots!


  16. Great, now we’re gonna have a bunch of anti-mask Taliban and their 6 wices spending their $2 trillion US stimulus money on Spirit flights to Miami wondering why they can’t bring their newly acquired machine guns carry on with them.

  17. @CuriousCat

    I did provide an answer, but due to the two links, it is stuck until the admin approves.

    The first the 2020 BBC article linking the details of the US withdrawal agreement, brokered by POTUS Trump in Doha. It had all the details of the planned withdrawal of US troops beginning in April 2021.

    The second article (NPR) was a discussion from March 2021 of how difficult this withdrawal would be.

    My sincere hope is that the moderator will release the post.

    In the meantime, a quick search should result in the same.

  18. @Amazing Larry,

    I sure hope you accidentally hit three k’s in a row when misspelling Democrat. The direct, tangible ties of the GOP to the KKK are well documented.

  19. @Amazing Larry – like you even gave a flying flock about Afghanistan before this week. Your just having another Pavlovian dog drool response to any action Biden takes. Let’s not forget Trump was the one who made the withdrawal deal with the Taliban while cutting out the Afghan government — and in fact wanted to pull out even more precipitously and invite the Taliban to Camp David and Bush was the one who got us into this black hole of a completely unwinnable war to begin with.

    We spent more than 2 TRILLION bucks and shed American blood in Afghanistan. Time to cut our losses.

  20. If Amazing Larry was so concerned about Afghanistan, why didn’t he/she go and volunteer to join the Afghan National Army in Afghanistan before it dissolved and even turned coat? Because he/she doesn’t really care about Afghanistan and wouldn’t if this had happened under his/her Lord Trump.

    Interestingly enough, Trump sort of did Biden a favor when it came to Afghanistan, as Biden has been wanting out of Afghanistan at all costs even well before he was elected as US Vice President.

  21. Has anyone asked the Taliban what their preferred pronouns are? That seems to be more of a concern than foreign policy.

  22. A figure like $2.7 trillion of spending over 20 years used to horrify me. Then the pandemic came and we spend that in a few months on stimulus checks for Playstations.

  23. Either western countries abuse/torture/murder/are the dictators in Afghanistan or other groups are. Western occupation and forced control for 20 years didn’t solve anything. The U.S. military killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and killed people who governed themselves in their own lands. Democracy in itself is slavery and dictatorship where 49% are dictated to by 51%. The U.S. military wasted 20 years doing something that wouldn’t work. The U.S. imposed Afghan government was just as bad for many as the Taliban. Afghanistan has been a mess even before the Soviets. Kaboul Kitchen TV series need a new season with the new circumstances included. The only solution that could work is the same solution for the U.S: separation. If the Taliban wants to be separate and the other groups want to be separate, let them have their own territory. Same with whites and blacks/non white latinos in the U.S. Forced integration is a crime against humanity and nature.

    What matters to me is not Afghanistan but whites undergoing genocide in their own western countries at the hands of immigration and leftist democracy.

  24. @Jackson Waterson
    “What matters to me is not Afghanistan but whites undergoing genocide in their own western countries at the hands of immigration and leftist democracy.”

    Yeah… I hear that Canada is a real bitch. Fight the power, eh?

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