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    High-altitude ISR proves vital in final hours of Operation Allies Refuge

    Last American Soldier leaves Afghanistan

    Photo By Sgt. Maj. Alexander Burnett | Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII...... read more read more



    Story by 1st Lt. Brandon Shapiro      

    Grand Forks Air Force Base

    GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- It was the day before the United States planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, and at nearly 60,000 feet, an RQ-4 Global Hawk methodically circled the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

    Piloted by members of the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, the high-latitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) asset would prove invaluable.

    The tasking: provide overwatch, threat identification of potential attacks, and emergency communication relays for every evacuating C-17 Globemaster III in and out of the theater. The significance was immense – in less than six hours, every American service member would be out of Afghanistan.

    “The mission details were complex, the threat level high, and the margin for error was set to zero,” said 1st Lt. Mario, one of the RQ-4 mission commanders. “We were given an extremely tight window and tasked with a tremendous amount of intelligence gathering.”

    With each intelligence report and additional tasking, the pilot and sensor operator crews strategically maneuvered the aircraft. Their round-the-clock ground moving target indicator (GMTI) exploitation proved vital to the security of the mission, and both U.S. military and Afghan civilians on the ground.

    According to Mario, the scene in-and-around the exfiltration site was extremely busy.

    In the final hours leading up to the evacuation, members of the 348th provided numerous ground moving target threat reports; because of intelligence, all risks were averted, and potential for military and civilian harm thwarted.

    “The sensor operators and intelligence analysts working in our Global Hawk Operations Center were nothing but spectacular,” noted Mario. “If not for the real-time threat assessments and warnings, I truly believe there would have been a different outcome to this mission.”

    The critical information provided enabled the joint force exploitation of real-time intelligence, maneuvering of personnel and equipment, and the strategic exfiltration of all remaining aircraft chalks out of the country.

    Then, at 3:29 p.m. EST, under the cover of darkness and with RQ-4 eyes overhead, the last manned aircraft was wheels-up in Afghanistan. Justly, onboard that final aircraft were Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the commander of troops in Kabul, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson.

    “Knowing that we were the unit directly tasked to shoulder such an immense responsibility, makes me extremely proud; the 348th Northern Hawks train every day to become technical and tactical experts that can flex to meet some of the most complex mission requirements out there,” said Lt. Col. Susan Martin, 348 RS commander. “Operation Allies Refuge demonstrates how capable and critical high-altitude, all-weather, day or night ISR assets are to the fight.”

    Over the 17 day duration of Operation Allies Refuge and the Non-combatant Evacuation Operation Airlift, the 348th flew more than 295 hours. Their actions were critical to the United States marking the end of 20 years of American involvement fighting the Global War on Terrorism in Afghanistan.

    Eighteen members of the final RQ-4 Block 40 Operation Allies Refuge mission were awarded medals for outstanding achievement.


    Operation Allied Refuge was the largest non-combatant evacuation operation airlift in U.S. History. Over 17 days, from Aug. 14-30, 2021, nearly 800 civilian and military aircraft from more than 30 nations safely evacuated more than 124,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport.



    Date Taken: 12.02.2021
    Date Posted: 12.03.2021 11:33
    Story ID: 410404

    Web Views: 1,065
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