Operation Tiger Rescue
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Yemen had only recently been formed by the unification of North Yemen and South Yemen in 1990. After unification, North Yemen dominated the new country and the southern part of the country attempted to secede.
While the south bore the brunt of the fighting, the capital of Sana'a came under missile and air attack. As fighting intensified, the United States State Department requested the immediate evacuation of United States citizens, both civilian and government employees, from Yemen.
The only United States military forces available for this short-notice tasking were C-130 Hercules of the 41st Airlift Squadron deployed from their home base of Pope Air Force Base to King Abdul Aziz Air Base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. When the unit received its tasking, it quickly developed an initial plan under the direction of Captain Jon Weisenger (Aircraft Commander of the second C-130 aircraft in the airlift package) and briefed to the 4410th Airlift Squadron Provisional deployed operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kurt K. Kaiser.
On 4 May 1994, a single C-130 took Lt Col Kaiser and a small support team of para-rescue members into Sana'a International Airport. When they arrived, they met with the United States Embassy staff to determine the best method for gathering United States citizens at the international airport. Lt Col Kaiser had assumed that the United States would need only three or four flights based on initial assessment of the number of American citizens requiring evacuation. It quickly became apparent that there were more than six hundred American citizens in Yemen. This larger number of evacuees led to a multi-day operation using all American C-130s deployed to Dhahran with a follow-on flight of a single C-141 transport the remaining American citizens.
The airlift began on May 5, 1994 with four C-130s. Because of the uncertain security situation in Sana'a - due to the missile and air attacks - C-130s departed Dhahran with a maximum fuel load. They flew a four-hour flight from Dhahran to a holding point northwest of the capital in international airspace - due to the Government of Saudi Arabia forbidding direct flights across the border into Yemen. When the aircraft approached Sana'a, the aircrews put their planes into holding while Embassy personnel gathered evacuees at the airport. When the passengers were ready at the airfield and low threat air attacks were taking place, pararescue team members on the airfield radioed the aircraft, approving them to land. The crews made quick, loaded the evacuees with engines running, then departed for the four-hour flight back to Dhahran. Because of disorganization at Sana'a International Airport and delays loading (ground times for some C-130 aircraft exceeded three hours), all four C-130s involved departed Sana'a overloaded with passengers and forced to make an emergency divert to Ta'if Regional Airport, landing dangerously low on fuel (in some cases with less than 20 minutes of flight time remaining) before continuing on to Riyadh Air Base. The airlift evacuated approximately 400 American citizens on the first day.
E-3 AWACS and F-15s deployed to Saudi Arabia provided some support to the airlift. Both AWACS and fighter crews opted to remain well within the protected airspace of Saudi Arabia. They provided sporadic and ineffective support to the C-130s on the first day and only slightly improved on the second day. While rebel MiGs approached the holding and ingressing C-130s at times, they only intermittently came close enough to pose a danger. The C-130s also experienced close monitoring by offensive attack helicopters while conducting ground operations and loading.
The final airlift took place on 6 May 1994 with a single C-141 aircraft transporting all the remaining United States civilians, embassy workers, and the United States military ground party. While the mission was presented with a lower threat environment, there still remained a very real threat to the aircraft and crew.
Once other nations realized the United States was not only evacuating its citizens, but also providing air cover, they began evacuating their own citizens, but these operations were not part of Tiger Rescue.
Origin of the name
The name Tiger Rescue was decided upon during an early planning meeting at Dhahran, and was chosen because the 41st Airlift Squadron had recently come under the control the 23d Fighter Group, nicknamed the Flying Tigers.