Did Yemen Evacuation Cover Staging of JSOC Troops, Equipment for Attack?

A C-17 configured to carry troops being redeployed out of Bagram. (DVIDS)

A C-17 configured to carry troops being redeployed out of Bagram. (DVIDS)

Earlier this morning, a tweet from Joshua Foust alerted me to this BBC article, where it appears that some observers suspect that the US may be preparing a JSOC strike within Yemen:

Amid the escalating tensions, sources also told BBC Newsnight that the US was preparing special operations forces for possible strike operations against al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Although the US has previously sent special forces to train counter-terrorist units, there are now suggestions that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may be preparing units for strike operations, the sources said.

This information prompted me to remember that I had noticed someone mention that yesterday’s evacuation of personnel from Yemen was described as having employed an Air Force C-17. The C-17 is a highly versatile aircraft and can be rapidly reconfigured between transporting passengers and heavy equipment:

The design of the cargo compartment allows the C-17 to carry a wide range of vehicles, palleted cargo, paratroops, air-drop loads and aeromedical evacuees.

The cargo compartment has a sufficiently large cross-section to transport large wheeled and tracked vehicles, tanks, helicopters (such as the AH-64 Apache), artillery and weapons such as the Patriot missile system. Three Bradley armoured vehicles comprise one deployment load on the C-17. The US Army M1A1 main battle tank can be carried with other vehicles.

The maximum payload is 170,900lb (77,519kg) with 18 pallet positions, including four on the ramp. Airdrop capabilities include: a single load of up to 60,000lb (27,216kg), sequential loads of up to 110,000lb (49,895kg), Container Delivery System (CDS) airdrop up to 40 containers, 2,350lb (1,066kg) each, up to 102 paratroops.

Here is how the use of a C-17 in the evacuation was described:

Almost 100 U.S. government personnel were evacuated from Yemen at dawn Tuesday as the State Department urged all Americans in the country to leave “immediately” because of an “extremely high” threat of a terrorist attack — even as a U.S. drone attack killed four suspected terrorists.

U.S. officials said the “non-emergency evacuation” of “just under a hundred” personnel was carried out by an US Air Force C-17 which took off from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, bound for Ramstein air base in Germany. Some essential embassy staff stayed behind.

And so that story would have us believe that as the C-17 left Sana’a for Ramstein, the inside looked somewhat like the photo above, but with the embassy personnel in civilian clothing instead of uniforms. But I wonder what the inside of the C-17 looked like as it landed in Sana’a. Something like this, maybe, with a number of Special Forces soldiers? (Not that tank would be the heavy equipment of choice, but you get the idea.)

A C-17 configured to carry heavy equipment. (Wikimedia Commons)

A C-17 configured to carry heavy equipment. (Wikimedia Commons)

Note also that the NBC story states the evacuation flight left at dawn. That means the C-17 would have arrived and possibly been unloaded under cover of darkness. Also note that Foust’s first assumption was that the usual course of action would have been for the US to utilize a commercial charter for the evacuation. Use of the C-17 instead of a commercial charter opens up more possibilities on what the US may have been up to with these flights.

8 replies
  1. scribe says:

    That’s not a tank in your picture. It’s an M109-series howitzer.

    It would make perfect sense for the USG to call on a C-17 to do the evacuation – commercial carriers or their insurers might well have balked at flying their aircraft into the zoo that would be Yemen, for fear of losing the aircraft. Similarly, the C-17 would have been available on several minutes notice – a call from DC would have gotten the Air Force moving instantly – as opposed to an unknown amount of time for commercial.

    And, finally, landing under cover of darkness would have allowed any number of special forces operators and their gear to have exited the aircraft either at the airport or by parachute somewhere along the way, or some combination of the two. Remember, the first qualification a candidate special forces soldier has to earn is a set of paratrooper’s wings. So, the plane could have landed empty despite having delivered JSOC operators along the way.

  2. Jim White says:

    @scribe: Potayto, potahto. Here’s the caption for that photo from the military: ” A Howitzer 2000 tank from the Netherlands is fastened to the floor of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Sept. 6, 2006. The C-17, from the Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., is transporting the 60-ton tank to Afghanistan.”

    And yes, the dropping of troops and equipment before landing would fit very well into the whole operation.

  3. Peterr says:

    @scribe: And the drama of the whole thing sounds so much better:

    Officer: We’re headed into battle, folks. I can’t tell you where until we’re off the ground, but it’s big. Really big.

    Grunt: When do we leave, sir?

    *cue dramatic music*

    Officer: We leave . . . at dawn.

    *music swells*

    “We leave right after lunch” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

  4. orionATL says:

    i’m beginning to wonder seriously about the scale of this al-q threat.

    are we talking normandy beach, tet, benghazi, or an atm robbery?

    i read 4 fighters killed in a u.s. drone bombing, the 7 more in another.

    now there is a story of 26 a-qap fighters waiting to attack somewhere, – maybe a canadian oil terminal.

    will there be a large loss of life and/or property as in the wtc bombings?

    will it be of lesser scale as in the cole bombing?

    will we see “war” on the cheap, where a couple of dozen buckos ride into town to shoot it up, fully expecting to be carted of feet first

    with al-q getting some extremely valuable p.r. at a cheap price and nsa getting some desperately needed absolution.

    that would be win-win now wouldn’t it.

  5. john francis lee says:

    Do they have the drone cameras live on TV in the states yet? ‘Complicit Murder’ … so everyone, especially the kids, can hi-five and chortle and yuck over ‘those dead bastards’?

    The NSA needs a slogan … ‘We turn communications into co-ordinates so the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate can turn co-ordinates into vapor!’ Very profitable operation for all involved. Except those vaporized … who are ‘Yemenis’, or ‘Waziristanis’ … in any case ‘suspects’ … just like Trayvon Martin. We’re engaged in self-defense. Just standing our ground … in Yemen. In Waziristan.

    There’s an ongoing and imminent terrorist threat all right. As Glenn Greenwald said of Obama’s cancellation of the ‘summit’ with Putin .. “it’s becoming increasingly clear here who the rogue and lawless nation is in this case.”

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thanks, Jim.

    The beauty of an aircraft like the C-17, from the government’s and from a PR perspective, is that it can perform multiple missions in a single sortie. It allows the government to say and imply one, “humanitarian”, purpose, while achieving but not disclosing other martial purposes.

    Propaganda, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

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