The noncombatant evacuation operation in Afghanistan in August illustrated a resolvable logistics enterprise and highlighted the compassion of the military and U.S. partners around the world, Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said.
The Transcom commander delivered today's keynote address — her first since becoming Transcom commander earlier this month — at the 2021 National Defense Transportation Association Fall Meeting.
"Earlier this summer, under what seemed to be an impossible timeline, Transcom executed the largest drawdown of its kind in Afghanistan," Van Ovost said. "Fast forward to August and no one could have predicted the Afghanistan government would fall in 11 days and that we would conduct the largest humanitarian airlift in American history. The president called, and we delivered."
No other military in the world or transportation enterprise in the world could have executed the evacuation like the United States, she said after showing a video to the audience of the mission in Afghanistan after 20 years of war there. She noted the iconic images represent the enormous impact of the operation.
"When I see those images, I see humanity," Van Ovost said. "I see American values on display. I see compassion. The Afghanistan year was really a capstone event for this enterprise.
Our entire warfighting framework was put to the test: global posture, mobility capacity, global command and control integration. Our Air Mobility Command and commercial partners crushed it," she said to audience applause.
"Whether you are talking about our contingency response personnel who operated in Kabul International Airport, our enablers who provided our en-route support, our aeromedical evacuation teams flying out our wounded, our aerial refueling teams extending our reach, our global operations center and air operations center providing command and control, our C-17 cruiser maintainers or our civil reserve air fleet, this incredibly dedicated team of mobility professionals [is] the best in the world," the general said.
The operational team was integrated at every level, she noted. Involved were four department-level agencies — the Department of Defense, Department of State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — in addition to four DOD combatant commands: U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Northern Command and Transcom.
"I mention all these to highlight the scale and magnitude of the operation," Van Ovost said. Our teamwork spanned through our fast constellation of allies and partners and our extensive global posture."
With more than 30 countries providing airlift out of Kabul, nine countries welcomed Afghan refugees … and countless others donated support. Our State Department worked diligently with international partners and combatant commands to acquire the international support agreements necessary to enable this operation, she said.
"This is merely a glimpse into the integration I foresee, in an all-domain contested conflict with a pacing threat. And of course, industry was instrumental to increasing our capacity leading to the full success of this operation," the commander said.
Stage one of [Civil Reserve Air Fleet] brought in 18 aircraft of multiple carriers, she said, adding, "And what you might not have known is that many of those carriers volunteered their support prior to the 22nd of August, when [Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] ordered the division of CRAF stage one. All of our commercial partners embodied the American spirit through this operation. And they're still going strong as operations have recommenced."
Van Ovost said she's even heard of commercial crews staged at Ramstein who bought toys, coloring books, candy, diapers and other supplies to give to Afghan families and children. "I'm sure there are countless similar stories because this is the core of what it means to be an American. To all of those who went out of their way to extend a hand of compassion, I offer you a very special thank you."