Pictures of helicopters evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have already become an iconic image of the NATO withdrawal from the country. Among them were CH-46 Sea Knights – affectionately known as “Phrogs” – operated by the U.S. Department of State.

The Vietnam-era helicopters originated with the U.S. Marine Corps, and some of the ones used in the recent evacuation may have even been used in Saigon. But their final resting place will be Kabul.


What Is “Embassy Air”

Known in Iraq and Afghanistan as Embassy Air, the Department of State Air Wing flies a variety of airframes. The Air Wing’s official title is Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Office of Aviation. The Air Wing began operations in 1978 by hamstringing drug production in South and Central America. The mission expanded to include pretty much anything the State Department wanted, from humanitarian missions to VIP transport.

Throughout the majority of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Embassy Air was operated by Dyncorp. After litigation over contract awards, the contract for maintenance and operation went to AAR Airlift. The State Department confirmed by email that AAR Airlift is the Air Wing’s current Worldwide Aviation Support Services contractor.

AAR Airlift first announced that they had taken over the State Department contract in 2017. As for Dyncorp, the longtime military aviation contractor later became a part of defense contractor Amentum.

In 2009, the Air Wing first began transporting Chief of Mission personnel around Afghanistan, the State Department said. The regular flights between the airport and embassy in Kabul started in December 2014 in response to a change in the threat level.