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The Pentagon Is Calling On 6 U.S. Airlines To Help With The Afghan Evacuation Effort

Updated August 22, 2021 at 12:28 PM ET

The Pentagon says it is seeking help from six U.S. airlines to help with the ongoing evacuation effort in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin activated Stage 1 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, or CRAF, on Sunday. The U.S. military is asking 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.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the civilian aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Instead, they will be used for "the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases" outside of Afghanistan.

Kirby said that activating the CRAF program will better allow "military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of Kabul."

The Defense Department does not anticipate that the CRAF activation will cause major impact to the commercial airliners participating in the program, according to Kirby.

The Pentagon says this is the third time the CRAF program has been used. It was first activated from Aug. 1990 to May 1991 during Operation Desert Storm and then again from Feb. 2002 to June 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In a statement, United — which is providing four 777-300 aircraft — said they are proud to partner with the U.S. military.

"As a global airline and flag carrier for our country, we embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like these and use our expertise to ensure the safe passage of our fellow countrymen and women as well as those who have risked their lives to help keep them safe," the company said.

American Airlines said Sunday they are sending three widebody aircraft to the Arabian Peninsula and Europe to assist with the emergency evacuations.

"The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking," American Airlines said in a statement. "The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this life-saving effort."

The situation in Kabul has remained chaotic since the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital city on Aug. 15. Panicked crowds continue to try to make their way to the airport, which has been guarded by insurgent fighters. The Associated Press reported Sunday that seven Afghan citizens had been killed at the airport.

Maj. General William "Hank" Taylor said Saturday that the U.S. has so far evacuated 17,000 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country.

In a Wednesday interview with ABC News, President Biden said there were between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans and between 50,000 and 65,000 Afghans waiting to leave the country.

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Dave Mistich is the Charleston Reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave can be heard throughout week on West Virginia Public Radio, including during West Virginia Morning and Inside Appalachia. He also anchors local newscasts during Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings and covers the House of Delegates for The Legislature Today.
Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.