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Government, Politics & Issues

Transportation Command At Scott AFB Key To U.S. Evacuation In Afghanistan

Afghanistan Evacuation
Airman 1st Class Kylie Barrow
/
U.S. Air force
Service members prepare to board evacuees onto a C-17 Globemaster lll on Sunday at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base coordinates the logistics of the military's evacuation of Kabul.

Scott Air Force Base may be on the other side of the world from Kabul, Afghanistan, but the base is heavily involved in the United States’ evacuation efforts there.

The base houses the U.S. Transportation Command, TRANSCOM, which coordinates the logistical movement of troops and supplies for the country’s military.

“We’re basically the logistics hub for the Department of Defense — a Pentagon in the Midwest,” said Scott Ross, deputy director of public affairs at TRANSCOM. “Any time you see a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine in the news, we are the ones that move them there.”

This is no different for the current evacuation operation in Kabul, although most of TRANSCOM’s operations don’t receive as much attention, he said.

“All the planning occurs at Scott Air Force Base,” Ross said. “Like right now we’re moving the evacuees out of Afghanistan, they [other commands] request through the joint staff the assistance they need, and we’re the ones that deliver it.”

It’s not trivial to coordinate. Ross explained there are logistical requirements to safe global movement, like diplomatic clearances, flight paths over different countries, fuel and maintenance involved.

In the case of the evacuation in Afghanistan, TRANSCOM coordinates with 14 intermediate locations to get evacuees to the United States. Ross added that these specific missions are executed through different components of the military, like the Air Mobility Command, also located at Scott.

Beyond the flight paths, TRANSCOM also faces a time constraint with the evacuation, with President Joe Biden maintaining his commitment to an Aug. 31 withdrawal date.

The remedy is to reduce downtime for planes as much as possible, said Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, commander of Transportation Command.

“The idea is to keep those planes moving all the time, either by extending the crew day, or preferably by swapping crews and keeping an eye on motion,” he said during a Pentagon briefing on Monday. “My commitment is to ensure that airlift is never the constraint in this operation.”

Fueling the aircraft is another place the military relieves some of the logistical pressure on the evacuation, by providing enough for planes to fly in and out of Afghanistan without refilling, Lyons said.

“The United States is the only nation capable of rapidly deploying forces in providing nonstop airlift operations at this scale,” he said.

While the evacuation in the Middle East is a more visible showcase of what TRANSCOM manages, the command coordinates the movements of thousands of vehicles, including ships, trains, trucks and planes, each day, Ross said. Members of the command weren’t surprised when they needed to coordinate one either, he added.

“It was just like every other day,” Ross said. “We provide options for our nation's leaders because we can move our forces anywhere, day or night.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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