Minnesota National Guard troops in midst of chaos at Kabul airport

Little did the 1,100 Minnesota National Guard troops deployed to the Middle East in March realize they would end up at the Kabul airport assigned to Operation Allies Rescue to salvage the botched withdrawal of Americans and others from Afghanistan. The 1st Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment of the Minnesota National Guard headquartered in Brainerd includes troops from across the state, including Sauk Center, St. Cloud and Camp Ripley.

Department of Defense photos show members of Task Force 1-194 on the ground assisting evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport several days ago, but there’s been no update on the status of the Minnesotans since terrorist bombings killed 12 Marines and a Navy sailor, according to WCCO-TV.

Eleven-hundred Minnesota National Guard troops are in Afghanistan right now, including at Kabul’s airport. It is not clear yet if any Minnesota guard members were among the injured. It’s also not known how long they will be in Afghanistan.

Minnesota troops were in Kuwait, so they were in position to quickly be deployed to Afghanistan. This was confirmed on Aug. 18 by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Since 12 August we’ve deployed … two United States Marine battalions, one battalion from the Minnesota National Guard, all three of those were prepositioned in theater,” Milley said.

The announcement appears to have prompted a letter sent the next day to Minnesota National Guard families confirming the deployment to Afghanistan, but offering no details and asking families not to post to social media.

A brief note on the unit’s Facebook page from August 25 stated the task force is ” is proud to be helping the Afghan people through this evacuation process with providing medical and in-processing support.” The Department of Defense described the Minnesotans’ pivotal role in an earlier news release.

The task force is currently securing vital sectors of Hamid Karzai International Airport. In addition, Task Force 1-194 Soldiers are providing humanitarian assistance to U.S. citizens, special immigrant visa holders, and their families.

“The Soldiers of Task Force 1-194 were called upon to execute a challenging mission, and they have done so with professionalism,” said Task Force 1-194 Commander, Army Lt. Col. Jake Helgestad. “They have shown strength, compassion, and resolve despite danger and difficulty.”

There’s no update following the bombings on the unit’s Facebook page, just an August 19 letter addressed to families that reads in part:

We understand that there is never enough information to address the stress of having a Soldier conducting missions far from home. We will provide updates as available, but please understand detailed information is not available at this time to ensure your Soldier remains safe during this operation. For the safety of your Soldier and your family, we highly encourage you to refrain from posting any information on social media.

No doubt these are anxious days for families as the 1-194th faces a daunting task with the evacuation winding down amidst continuing terrorist threats and the Minnesotans become some of the last Americans to leave Afghanistan after nearly 20 years on the ground.