Air Force scrubbed hijacking claim from news release after CENTCOM disputed story

Buried within an official Air Force news release published Tuesday was the startling claim that there had been an attempted hijacking during the August Afghanistan evacuations. But according to officials from U.S. Central Command, that didn’t happen.

In the news release posted on the Moody Air Force Base’s homepage, Lt. Col. Kristen Duncan of 23rd Air Wing Public Affairs stated that there had been a hijacking plot thwarted by Air Force personnel during this summer’s Afghan refugee evacuation efforts in Kabul.

However, within 24 hours of a CNN article reporting that CENTCOM denied the claim, the Moody AFB’s article was quietly scrubbed, with no notification that it had been changed.

“I am unaware of any attempt to hijack a plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” Lt. Josie Lynne Lenny, a spokeswoman for CENTCOM, had told CNN Thursday afternoon.

When asked about the incident by Military Times Friday, Army Maj. John Rigsbee said that no hijacking attempt had occurred and that there was confusion that contributed to how the information was released. He also noted that Moody then “updated” its initial story.

“During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, there was never any hijacking attempt on a plane at Hamad Karzai International Airport,” Maj. John Rigsbee, a spokesman for CENTCOM, said in a statement Friday to Military Times.

Although the story had been sent to CENTCOM officials for approval — which was noted in an editorial disclaimer on the release stating that it had been vetted for operational security specifically by CENTCOM — Rigsbee said it was sent to the wrong section at the command.

In the original article, Duncan — who was recounting the story of Lt. Col. Brian Desautels, 71st Rescue Squadron and Personnel Recovery Task Force commander of Air Force troops deployed to Afghanistan —wrote that, “on one occasion after they received an intel tip, five people onboard one of the commercial flights intended to hijack the aircraft.”

Duncan continued Desautels’ story, quoting him saying that “our team worked to get them clear of the NATO ramp, relocated to the north side away from friendly forces, then ultimately onto the south side where the situation was handled.”

Public Affairs’ officials for 23rd Air Wing were not immediately available for comment.

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and Master’s candidate at New York University. She’s currently an Editorial Fellow for Military Times.

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