Kabul Mission Exhaustion – Pilots’ Dilemma

The pilots involved in the Kabul Mission who are ferrying a constant stream of Afghan refugees and others, are being rotated due to exhaustion. The dizzying pace of flights from Kabul has produced a difficult situation for the military: how to rotate the flight crews to keep safety in the midst of a crisis.

kabul mission
Evacuees wait under the wing of C-17 Globemaster lll after arriving in an undisclosed location in the Middle East region on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, after being evacuated onboard a military aircraft from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Allies Refuge. (Kylie Barrow, U.S. Air Force)

I won’t lie to you, our crews are tired –they’re probably exhausted in some cases. I know that the leaders from time to time are pulling crews out to make sure we don’t have safety issues...

The idea is to keep those planes moving all the time, either by extending the crew day or preferably by swapping crews and keeping the iron in motion. There’s a very tight detail management system to do that.”

Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, the commander of TRANSCOM

Kabul mission exhaustion?

Air Force C-17 pilots are prone to exhaustion just like fighter pilots:

 Even minor levels of underlying fatigue will manifest at this critical level of human performance. And as fatigue worsens, performance degrades in a progressive and predictable pattern. First, attention declines. Next, one’s ability to reason and reliably evaluate deteriorates. Irritability often follows. Finally, motor skills begin to falter with fine motor skills affected prior to large purposeful movements as daytime sleepiness builds. One famous study cleverly compared progressing levels of sleep deprivation to performance degradation equivalent to increasing blood alcohol content (BAC)…

Flight duties and abundant queep equate into very long duty days. Long duty shifts alone are directly associated with fatigue, but these long days have many second-order effects as well. For example, there will likely be an influence on a pilot’s daily sleep habits and diet. Convenient, but unhealthy, snacks become the next best option to a skipped meal due to an extended debrief. Long hours away from home translate into family stressors, which diminish quality and duration of sleep. In addition to long duty hours, circadian rhythm disturbance remains a threat to sufficient amounts of good-quality sleep. Fortunately, this is one cause of fatigue in aircrew that affects the long-haul heavy pilot community much more than the average fighter pilot in a training environment. In the theater of combat, however, all bets are off and the expectation to fly long-duration sorties during times when your body is convinced it should be asleep remains a frequent occurrence. Lastly, any decrease in sleep begins to be banked as a sleep debt, which can create a cycle of fatigue, insufficient sleep, and diminished performance which only worsens over time.


[Queep: non-flying duties, paperwork].

Is America headed for a recession?

The Kabul mission

In the case of our pilots who are in a constant state of evacuating thousands of Afghans, the US military has resorted to attempting to rotate crews so that the pilots can get some sleep. Unfortunately, that is not always possible in the time crunch they face to get it all done by Tuesday next week.

U.S. military commanders have had to remove exhausted troops from work rotations to maintain safety as Kabul airlift crews on Monday flew the largest number of evacuation flights out of Afghanistan in a 24-hour period, the general who leads U.S. Transportation Command said Monday…

It’s been less than two weeks since thousands of U.S. troops were deployed to Kabul airport to help evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans seeking special immigrant visas to enter the United States. Though some evacuation efforts began in late July as the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from Afghanistan loomed, most of its evacuations have occurred since Aug. 14 — the day before the Taliban captured Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city.

The U.S. on Monday achieved its largest number of airlifts out of Afghanistan in a single day since evacuations started, with 16,000 people leaving Kabul on 25 C-17 and three C-130 military transport aircraft and 61 commercial flights within the past 24 hours, said Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, the Joint Staff’s deputy director for regional operations. All but 5,000 of the evacuees were taken on the military aircraft.

Stars and Stripes

Attempting to drain an entire country of people is not just exhausting for pilots, it’s exhausting for all of our troops and screeners. Mistakes are easily made. The UK and France accidentally airlifted people who are security risks, according to Breitbart. That pressure on top of the sheer size of the Kabul mission would wear on anyone. Some Afghans are being flown to Qatar, some to Germany, some to Italy, and some on to the United States.


H/T Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children


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Faye Higbee

Faye Higbee is the columnist manager for Uncle Sam's Misguided Children. She has been writing at Conservative Firing Line since 2013 as well. She is also a published author.

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