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Formidable, sure. Problematic, probably.
But unimaginable? Not really. So since we've already imagined it, let's have a look at some approximate numbers (emphasis on approximate):
–The population of Afghanistan is around 33 million.
–There are dozens of different airports throughout the country, one of which, Kandahar Airfield, has become (for quite obvious reasons) one of the busiest in the world, sometimes handling up to 5,000 flights per week.
–Large aircraft, such as the Boeing 747, can carry up to 500 passengers, and certain freighter aircraft could potentially carry a great many more. Additionally, the Russian-produced Mil-26, the heftiest helicopter ever built, could also carry up to 500 passengers—and quite importantly, it wouldn't require an airstrip.
–Lowballing passenger payloads at 500, it would require 66,000 flights to carry away 33 million people.
–Around 87,000 flights crisscross US skies on any given day, and Afghanistan's airspace is obviously quite accustomed to heavy traffic, so 66,000 flights would be, in this mildly unreasonable context, rather reasonable—a matter of perhaps days or weeks, especially if many other nations pitched in some aircraft and if nearby countries, namely Russia, would allow clear routes.
Airlifting an entire population is physically feasible, crazy! But wouldn't the costs be daunting? Well, considering we are ready to spend $1 million per year to maintain the existence of each soldier there, we're already in the realm of large expenses. And as it turns out, this plan would actually be quite cheap. Consider:
–Even if each flight travels up to ten hours, and even if fuel costs and passenger-freight payloads are highballed at $3.50/gal and 140,000 lbs., respectively, each flight would cost around $74,000.
–Estimated operational costs: 66,000 x 74,000 = 4,884,000,000 = about 5 billion.
–Remember your units!
–$5 billion. That would be the one-way (away) ticket.
–Two way: $9,768,000,000 = about $10 billion.
–To put this in context, the one-way option would cost each American about $16.
–The two-way option, $32.
–Since each American has already spent about $1,000 dollars on the Afghanistan campaign, to little if any avail, and around $2,300 on Iraq, so even $50 or $100 from each of us, since there'd be those pesky incoming flights to pay for, ranks as rather frugal—even in 'this economy.'
We could carry off all the civilians of Afghanistan for the cost of dinner and a movie! What a spectacle! What drama! And what a tasty documentary such theatrics would make!
Nay? Nay. Neigh!
One might call this operation indelicate, inconsiderate, disrespectful. But could we rightly consider our current strategy a paragon of delicacy and respect?
Think about it, we could carry away the innocents among the civilian population and clean up the messy characters and other sullied matters left behind. We could root out the terrorists and vanquish the Taliban. With no people to be corruptly governed, governmental corruption would default on itself and disappear. Mine fields could be safely detonated and the drug trade could be cleared away. Weapons caches and armed outposts could be leveled or sealed off.
And roads, wells, homes and schools could take their place.
Then the Afghan people could truly have their lives back.
Yet what of those magic carpet rides? Well, Operation Come Fly With Me sounds pretty magical, right?
Or for greater fanfare: Operation Come Fly With Us.
And as for that remounted cavalry, those soldiers on horseback, they could be the aforementioned Trojan Horse for our times. A final round of flights to deploy equestrian troops and their steeds. Their conquests were heroic at the outset. Their efforts at the finale could be heroic as well.
And what could be more American than airplanes full of cowboys? Let's call the regiment The Marlboro Men, and let's call it a day.
Imagine the shock! Imagine the awe!
Or just imagine if we or the Afghan people had a say.