Las Vegas Sun

September 27, 2021

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Evacuation could have been worse

In the Aug. 31 letter “Withdrawal was botched,” the writer says he “was stationed in Japan when the Vietnam airlift was happening, and the pictures of Saigon looked exactly like the pictures from Afghanistan.”

I agree that the images from Saigon and Kabul do have a lot of similarities.

However, my perspective is different. I was well south of Japan, at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, and I was flying C-130s into Saigon for the evacuation. The Saigon evacuation ran longer than the Kabul evacuation did, but the end game was essentially the same.

There is one huge issue that I haven’t seen mentioned: You cannot evacuate people who will not come to the airport. For weeks, aircraft of all kinds left Saigon only partly loaded. Not until the last couple of days did the mass of people descend on Tan Son Nhut and chaos ensured. Also, just like Kabul.

Before my last flight out of Saigon (a couple of days before the city fell), I was briefed not to report more than 140 people on board over the radio out of regard for concerns of the Philippines government.

For all the breast beating — much of predictably political — about trying to force the Taliban to allow the evacuation to last past the deadline, that would have only led to a lot of people on both sides getting killed, in some cases by the plane load. As bad it was, trying to force the evacuation would have been much worse.