Updated Aug 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pentagon enlists commercial airlines to assist Afghanistan evacuation efforts

Afghans continue to wait around the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to leave the Afghan capital of Kabul, Afghanistan on August 21.

Afghans continue to wait at and near the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to leave the Afghan capital of Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday. Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Pentagon said Sunday it is formally seeking assistance from commercial airlines to help relocate evacuees from Afghanistan.

Driving the news: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has activated the first stage of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), asking 18 commercial aircraft from six airlines to support the U.S. military in its efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies. It's the third time a CRAF has been activated in the program's history.

Details: The activation formally requests three aircraft each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines and four from United Airlines.

  • The commercial aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul but instead solely focus on evacuees who have already gotten out of the country, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in an emailed statement.
  • Kirby added that that the department does not anticipate a major impact on commercial flights.

United Airlines, in an emailed statement, said it had accepted the Pentagon's request and would provide four of its Boeing 777-300 planes.

  • Atlas Airlines said, "We are proud to provide this essential passenger service in the region at this critical time."
  • American Airlines, in an emailed statement, said it would deploy three "widebody" aircraft to military bases and other secure transit points.
  • Delta announced it would assist the evacuation effort using available spare aircraft.
  • The other airlines did not immediately comment on the CRAF.

What they're saying: "We need more planes in the mix to do that piece of it, to move them from these initial points of landing onto the places that they'll ultimately resettle," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

  • Austin, speaking on ABC's "This Week," added: "We're going to try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out. And we've got — we continue to look at different ways ... to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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