This story has been updated with additional information from U.S. Central Command:
Buried within an official Air Force news release published Tuesday was the startling claim that there had been an intelligence tip that five people on a commercial aircraft intended to hijack the plane during the August Afghanistan evacuations.
And while the news release posted on the Moody Air Force Base’s homepage by Lt. Col Kristen Duncan of 23rd Air Wing Public Affairs assured that, “the situation was handled,” it didn’t clarify that there was never actually a potential hijacking situation to begin with.
But within 24 hours of a CNN article reporting that CENTCOM denied the potential hijacking claim, the Moody AFB’s news release was quietly scrubbed of any mention of the event or the related intel tip, and with no notification that the news release 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.
And when asked for clarification about the incident by Military Times Friday, Army Maj. John Rigsbee, a spokesman for CENTCOM, said no hijacking attempt had occurred and that there was confusion that contributed to how the information was released.
He additionally noted that the 23rd Air Wing had “updated” its initial story.
“During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, there was never any hijacking attempt on a plane at Hamad Karzai International Airport,” Rigsbee said in a statement to Military Times.
Rigsbee said that although the Moody press release 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 — it was sent to the wrong section at the command.
Navy Capt. William Urban, lead spokesman for CENTCOM, made a statement to Military Times Friday evening attempting to clarify the situation.
“During the Afghanistan evacuation mission, an intel tip indicated the possibility of a plot to highjack a particular commercial flight that was preparing to depart the airfield,” he said, confirming the original story that an intel tip noted the possibility of a hijacking.
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.”
But unlike in the original news release, Urban clarified that the tip turned out to be unfounded and that there was no hijacking attempt that needed to be handled.
So, while Duncan quoted Desautels’ in the original news release as saying that “the situation was handled,” there was never actually a situation to be dealt with at all.
“Ground traffic controllers diverted the plane to a safe location on the airfield where security forces boarded the plane and determined that there was no active attempt to highjack the aircraft,” Urban confirmed for Military Times.
Public Affairs’ officials for 23rd Air Wing were not immediately available for comment.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.