RSAF's MRTT tanker aircraft ends deployment to evacuate Afghanistan refugees

Singapore Army personnel assisting evacuees as they board the A330 MRTT at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Singapore Army personnel assisting evacuees as they board the A330 MRTT at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - The Republic of Singapore Air Force's Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft has returned to Singapore after completing its humanitarian mission to evacuate people from Afghanistan.

The plane was deployed on Aug 26 to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to ferry them to Germany, after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban on Aug 15 following the withdrawal of the United States.

More than 2,000 evacuees were transported over two weeks, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in a statement on Friday (Sept 10).

The returning aircraft was received at Changi Air Base (East) on Friday by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, together with other senior military officers including Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou and Chief of Air Force MG Kelvin Khong.

The deployment involved 77 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces, including pilots, aircrew, engineers and security personnel from the Singapore Army.

Open-source flight data showed that the tanker aircraft, which was declared fully operational in April, had been shuttling between the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and two American military air bases in south-west Germany - Ramstein and Spangdahlem.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had offered the MRTT to help the United States with the evacuation efforts on Aug 23, during US Vice-President Kamala Harris' visit to Singapore.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote that the 77-strong crew were given short notice to prepare for the mission. 

“Plans were disrupted with hasty goodbyes to their family members and loved ones. And yet, their professionalism and sense of mission were always uppermost in their minds.” 

“They flew Singapore’s flag high, being the only foreign military supporting the US’ evacuation efforts in Qatar,” he added. 

Charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Singapore Rafik Mansour on Friday thanked Singapore for its assistance in evacuating the civilians from Afghanistan.

"On behalf of the American people, I thank Prime Minister Lee and our partners in the Singapore Armed Forces for supporting the evacuation operation," he said.

Mr Mansour was speaking at a remembrance ceremony at the US Embassy, where staff and families commemorated the anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks in 2001 with a moment of silence.

"In the days following the attacks, Americans united as one. Our friends, allies, and neighbours both near and far stood tall and offered their hands of friendship and their shoulders to cry on. The outpouring of support we received from around the globe represented the very best of humanity," he said.