The Department of Defense has ordered six commercial airlines to send passenger jets to assist with the evacuation of Afghan collaborators and refugees from war-torn Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, invoking the Civil Reserve Air Fleet established in 1952 after the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War, requested civilian airliners provide 18 planes to help move evacuees who have already exited the country to locations in Europe and the Middle East, the Pentagon announced Sunday. Per the program’s stipulation, the fleet can be activated in a time of “major national defense emergency.”
The activation is for 18 jets: four from United Airlines; three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air; and two from Hawaiian 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. He added that the Pentagon does not expect disruption to commercial-flight operations as a consequence of the airlines fulfilling the orders.
Captain John Perkins, a spokesman for the military’s Transportation Command, told the New York Times on Sunday that the commercial airliners would start carrying passengers on Monday or Tuesday. The planes will not arrive at or depart from Kabul, given the escalating chaos on the ground, but will instead transport thousands of Afghans arriving at U.S. bases in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Once the refugees reach the Middle Eastern bases, the airliners would support the military fleet of C-17s, C-5s, and KC-10s flying Afghans to their final destinations in European countries like Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as the United States, officials told the Times.
Perkins said that some airlines had volunteered aircraft of their own accord last week to expedite the move-out. Given the massive size of the evacuation mission, Austin asked more airlines to participate in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet call and provide large, high capacity planes, the Times confirmed.
Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, wrote on social media, “As a global airline and flag carrier for our country, we embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like this one.”