India’s massive exfiltration operation, involving 130 people that mostly included Indian nationals, journalists, diplomats, embassy staff and security personnel in Kabul, has been caught on satellite imagery.
According to sources, a convoy of around 14 bulletproof cars was used to safely take all of the evacuees from the Indian embassy building to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Since there was no acting government in place, the Indian embassy could not seek help from local authorities for a safe passage to the airport.
The Taliban leadership was also not informed about the movement. It was up to local assets and trusted security personnel to ensure a safe passage from the embassy to the airport, where the Indian Air Force (IAF) transport jets were being deployed.
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Satellite images provided by space firm Planet Labs provide the first visual evidence of the well-crafted operation in Kabul. High resolution images taken on August 16 show the possible bulletproof convoy parked at the embassy complex.
All of the evacuees were taken to the airport in the early hours of August 17 since it was not possible to travel in the late hours owing to the sudden night curfew imposed by the Taliban.
Further confirming the use of the convoy, satellite images of the embassy compound, captured on August 17, did not show the presence of this convoy at the embassy.
India Today had earlier reported that the embassy had contacted all Indians who were to travel to the airport and asked them to spend the night at the mission. The evacuation was closely monitored by External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar, who was on his way to New York for the United Nations Security Council meetings.
The Indian side was concerned that rogue elements within the Taliban could have targeted the movement of Indians and a call was made to keep all information about the movement hidden from the Taliban leadership.
Intelligence inputs also suggested that operatives of terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba might have already entered Kabul city and could have targeted the Indian convoy.
Sources have confirmed that the convoy was guarded by four pilot vehicles – two in the front and two at the back of the convoy – during the roughly 7 km long journey to Kabul airport. The pilot vehicles also relied on local staffers who spoke the language and were familiar with the terrain.
Indian officials had, of course, informed their US counterparts who were in charge of operations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul about the evacuation plans.