A civil war engulfs rival tribal factions and the government engulfs Afghanistan, forcing Westerners living in Kabul to flee the country through an improvised air retreat operation.
To the delight of followers, Nietschzéens or religious, of the notion of eternal return, the paragraph above does not necessarily summarize the vertigo of events in the Asian country since the return of the Taliban to power two weeks ago.
It’s a description of the first aerial evacuation in history, which took place 92 years and 7 months ago under incredibly similar conditions.
In this 1928, Afghanistan was a turbulent monarchy, shaken by ethnic divisions that are still alive today. There were no Taliban, but there were the Saqqawists.
Like the Pashtun rebels, they borrowed their name from Bacha-ye Saqao, the “son of the water carrier”, a mere nickname for a vicious bandit named Habibullah Kalakani. He led several tribes against the Afghan king, Amanullah, in a violent civil war.
The emir, as the king was called, had returned from a European tour with several ideas for modernization. He wanted to establish a Parliament and establish universal elections, which only happened in Afghanistan in 2004, under the American occupation after September 11.
Naturally, the proposals were not very well received by the myriad of traditionalist tribes in the country, some heavily influenced by Islam. When he attacked a garrison from Saqao to Jalalabad, he used old planes piloted by Russians who had fled the Revolution of 1917.
The accusation of infidel hung on the king and the situation deteriorated.
The fighting even moved closer to the British legation, the diplomatic representation outside the center of the capital. Saqao promised Ambassador Sir Francis Humphry that nothing would happen to the West, nothing much different from the Taliban saying they are now moderate.
Like the Westerners of 2021, Humphry thought it was best to leave. British memories in the area weren’t the best, with London having been permanently evicted in 1919.
Since the same and only exit to British India in the east was blocked by civil war, the old diplomat found himself with a daring solution: to fly away, in the middle of the freezing winter, to find himself. bring to safety in Peshawar – a phrase no Westerner would say. today on the capital of Pakistani tribal areas.
The Royal Air Force, victorious in World War I, was still in its infancy. Its only large passenger planes were large Vickers Victoria biplanes, accommodating up to 25 people.
Except that, outside of Europe, they were only based in Iraq. Humphry convinced his superiors to transfer a dozen planes to India, in an excruciating journey with nine fuel stops.
On December 23, 1928, after a few reconnaissance flights, the first group of 23 women and children marched for an hour through the streets of Kabul until they reached the Sherpur airfield, built on the ruins of an ancient fortress in a place where today there is an affluent district of the capital.
There was a Victoria and two support planes to carry the baggage. The logistical challenge was enormous: in the midst of freezing temperatures and snowfall, the aircraft could reach an altitude of around 1,800 m, in an area where the mountains drop to 4,000 m.
The most obvious route was to follow the Peshawar-Jalalabad-Kabul road, the same as it is today, passing between the mountain walls of the Khyber Pass, the scene of so many massacres of Europeans en route to what is today ‘ hui Pakistan. The problem was the rebels down there, shooting at what they saw.
While awaiting the first recognition of the flying team, the employees of the Legation write with sheets on the lawns: “Fly high. How are you. [aqui]The landing, after all, should take place somewhere else.
The withdrawal, as today, also involved some Western dignitaries from other countries, recount Anne Baker and Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman in the historical account “Wings on Kabul” (1975). Some appeared with several fur coats, one on top of the other, to be squeezed into the tight canvas fuselages.
On January 14, Amanullah abdicated and, after a three-day nano-reign of his successor, Saqao seized power and became Habibullah Khan, Emir of Afghanistan. As tradition dictates in the country’s turbulent history, he had only one summer: on October 13, he was deposed by the military, and on November 1, he was executed at the age of 38. .
The story of withdrawal had a happy ending. Resolved with Saqao, in a negotiation resumed in the current talks between the United States and the Taliban over Kabul airport, the British have accomplished a feat.
After the last flight with seven Victoria and other aircraft on February 25, they ended the action by carrying 586 people and 110 tons of luggage. There were 84 missions, totaling 45,000 km traveled.
Defying historical comparisons, no one died or was injured. In the current chaotic exit operation, which has in any case already evacuated more than 100,000 people from Kabul, nearly 200 were killed in the attack on the farm (26), more than 20 were killed during the previous riots.