Pentagon orders U.S. airlines to provide flights for Afghanistan evacuation effort

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An American airlines Airbus A321-200 approaches Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on February 24, 2021.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has activated a program used only three times in the last 30 years to require U.S. commercial airlines to provide planes to help speed up Afghanistan evacuation efforts, the Pentagon said Sunday.

The commercial planes would not fly into Kabul but instead would be used to transport those who have already been flown out of the country to allow military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of Kabul, it said.

The Defense Department activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a nearly 70-year-old program created in the wake of the Berlin airlift to provide a backup by commercial air carriers for a “major national defense emergency.” It is the third time the CRAF has been activated. Previously it was used in the early 1990s and early 2000s during the Iraq wars.

The activation is for 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.

“CRAF activation provides the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility resources to augment our support to the Department of State in the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

“The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation,” Kirby said. The airlines didn’t immediately comment.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was announced by President Joe Biden earlier this year, has been beset by chaos. Thousands of people swarmed the Kabul airport, some clinging to military aircraft in desperate attempts to leave the country after the Taliban took over the city last week.

U.S. defense officials say that the military is looking for alternative ways to get Americans, Afghans and third-country nationals safely to the airport in Kabul following threats from the Islamic State, NBC News reported Saturday.



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