Frigate Captain Justo Solano, 44, is a member of the Defense Ministry’s Operations Command, the team that implemented the military plan to evacuate Spanish and Afghan allies from Kabul. “It was a very complex coordination task between several ministries where decisions had to be made very quickly,” he says after attending a round table on the operation organized by Casa Asia in Barcelona.
What was his role in the operation?
Mainly supporting the Foreign Ministry’s plan to quickly evacuate those who managed to reach Kabul airport from Afghanistan. We thought about how to best provide support, what it means for us to carry out the mission, and how and where to deploy on the ground.
It was all too fast, too hasty & mldr;
Undoubtedly, and that the military is used to surprise and prompt action. The Operations Centre, consisting of 15 to 20 people on a permanent basis, was immediately activated and the plan implemented. The deployment of forces began on the same day, 16 August. The situation needs to accelerate the whole operation.
What did they know about what was happening in Kabul?
Provided by Coalition forces, through regular relations we had with other allied countries and other forces on the ground. As you know, we withdrew from Afghanistan in May, but we have always been in touch with the US command. There was information that the situation was getting worse.
The US announced its total withdrawal several months ago. Have you ever thought that an evacuation would be necessary?
Such a thing is never denied and we are always ready to face the challenges that come our way. But everyone was surprised how quickly the situation developed and it forced us to react against RiloJay, We did it in the best possible way, within the means and our capabilities.
Did they have to change the initial plan?
The plan evolved. We had to review it two or three times to adapt it to a situation that was changing a lot and to give direct orders to the units to operate.
The initial plan of the government was to evacuate people from 23 to 27 August. But as you know, everything was done in haste. At first, it was proposed that civilian chartered aircraft would land in Kabul, but the situation did not allow this. Military planes made 17 flights from Kabul to Dubai, where we established the ‘hub’. From there, the evacuees flew to Madrid with civilian aircraft.
From a military point of view, what was the most difficult situation?
Get windows at the airport. In other words, over a period of time we had to fill the planes with people from landing to takeoff. At first it was very difficult to accommodate because we shared airport space with other countries and with many airplanes.
How did Afghan allies and aid workers identify the site of concentration amid the chaos at the airport?
Through the signals given by the Ministry of External Affairs. You had to go to one of the airport gates. Once there, various signs were used, such as the Spanish flag or the red handkerchief. We had soldiers stationed near the door who were in charge of identifying people and checking foreign passes.
Which was the hardest moment?
People were left behind. what went wrong?
I cannot assess in general whether there were failures or not, but from a military point of view, there were none. Our mission was to evacuate the people arriving at the airport and we did that. Over 2,000 people in two weeks. I don’t know how many were left on the ground or how many did not reach the airport, but we pulled out those who did.
What did you learn from this experience?
Life in these countries is not easy at all and the work done by Afghans who cooperate with us should be highly valued. You look at the military, the cooperating agencies, but above all you have to look at the citizens who have cooperated with us for the benefit of their country and international security. And what I’ve learned is that you shouldn’t forget them. So we tried our best to get them out of there.