Profile of an extraordinary warzone evacuation effort that completed 10 days on Thursday
To bypass initial Yemeni no-fly zone, India pinned evacuation efforts on Djibouti, the tiny African state across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait from Yemen. Indians advised to reach Sanaa and Aden. Two Air India A321s were parked in Muscat. INS Sumitra established a bridge between Aden and Djibouti, and was to relentlessly ply the 160 nautical miles of water over the coming days.
On April 1, INS Sumitra sailed into a “barrage of bombs” at Aden to pick up 349 Indians. AI received permission to fly to Yemen on April 3, began ferrying Indians from Sanaa to Djibouti and Djibouti to Mumbai/Kochi. Two IAF C-17 Globemasters flew 9 sorties to Mumbai and 2 to Kochi from Djibouti. INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash sailed 1,350 nautical miles for 4 days to reach Yemen; on April 4, INS Mumbai docked off Aden to pick up evacuees who were ferried to it in small boats in batches of 30-35. Two civilian passenger liners were commissioned in the effort.
India received requests from 26 countries for assistance in evacuating their nationals. Effort was so professional that the US Embassy advised Americans to seek Indian assistance to leave Sanaa. Till Thursday night, 5,600 had been pulled out of Yemen, including 960 foreigners — a dozen Americans and three Pakistanis among them.
INS SUMITRA’s kitchen can feed only 100 — its crew. The crew vacated their cabins for the evacuees. On day 1, the vessel took on board 349 individuals.
NAWAZ SHARIF sent 11 Indians rescued by Pak warship PNS Aslat to India in a special PAF aircraft. PM Modi thanked Pak PM for ‘humanitarian gesture’.
NOT THE BIGGEST EVER: India evacuated 2,280 persons, including 1,764 Indians, from the conflict zone during the 2006 Lebanon War.
Over 15,000 were pulled out of Libya in 2011. And the biggest airlift in history remains the Indian effort in Iraq and Kuwait in 1990, during which approximately 1,76,000 were evacuated between August 13, 1990 to October 11, 1990. Nearly 500 flights were involved in the Iraq-Kuwait operation.
REPORTING: Pranav Kulkarni, Sushant Singh and Shubhajit Roy