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Departing plane’s crew acted appropriately in harrowing incident with desperate Afghans: US military

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(NEW YORK) — Multiple military reviews have found a cargo-plane crew acted appropriately and broke no rules in the course of a deadly incident during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, the Air Force announced Monday.

On Aug. 16, an Air Force C-17 landed at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport bringing equipment to assist in the evacuation of civilians when it was swarmed by hundreds of Afghans who had breached the airport perimeter, military officials said.

“Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible,” an Air Force statement said a day later.

Harrowing video of the scene showed a large crowd surround the moving aircraft — with some clinging on as it took off and some falling through the air.

Upon landing at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, human remains were found in the wheel well of the plane. The aircraft was temporarily impounded to give time for it to be inspected and for the remains to be recovered.

Among the dead, local authorities said, was teenage soccer player Zaki Anwari. The General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports said in a statement on Facebook at the time that he had fallen to his death.

“He was kind and patient, but like so many of our young people he saw the arrival of the Taliban as the end of his dreams and sports opportunities,” an agency spokesman told The New York Times then.

On Monday, the Air Force announced that reviews by the staff judge advocate offices of U.S. Central Command and Air Mobility Command had agreed the crew “was in compliance with applicable rules of engagement specific to the event and the overall law of armed conflict.”

The crew’s operational leadership also reviewed the mission and found that it had “acted appropriately and exercised sound judgment” by getting the plane airborne as quickly as possible, given the situation, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

“The aircrew’s airmanship and quick thinking ensured the safety of the crew and their aircraft,” she said.

Stefanek also acknowledged the Afghans who died.

“This was a tragic event and our hearts go out to the families of the deceased,” she said.

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