U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered 18 aircraft from U.S. airlines be delivered to the Department of Defense to help with the effort to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees from Afghanistan according to a press release last Sunday. The airplanes will not be sent to Kabul, but instead be used to ferry passengers to the U.S. once they’ve reached bases in the Middle East by military planes.
The 18 aircraft have been requested through a voluntary program known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a partnership between the U.S. military and U.S. civilian commercial airlines that allows the Department of Defense to call up aircraft in emergency situations.
Created in the 1950s, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program has only been used twice before, according to the DoD press release, including in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 1990-91 invasion of Iraq, known as Desert Storm.
The 18 aircraft have been requested from American Airlines (three planes), Delta (three planes), United (four planes), Hawaiian Airlines (two planes), Atlas Air (three planes), and Omni Air (two planes).
“Under CRAF, the commercial carriers retain their Civil Status under FAA regulations while USTRANSCOM exercises mission control via its air component, Air Mobility Command,” the DoD said while announcing the move.
At least 17,000 people have been evacuated by the U.S. in the past week following the withdrawal of coalition troops from the country. The Taliban took control of the entire country, including the capital city of Kabul, with virtually no resistance, but there have been violent skirmishes at the airport as people try to flee.
The U.S. military is evacuating people in aircraft such as the C-17 to staging areas in the United Arab Emirates and Germany in a mission officially known as Operation Allies Refuge. The U.S. will temporarily house the Afghan refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas and Fort McCoy in rural Wisconsin.
Roughly 22,000 people have been flown out of Afghanistan since mid-July, according to Defense One, when Operation Allies Refuge commenced. President Joe Biden has promised that every American and Afghan refugee who worked with the Americans will be evacuated to safety, but it’s difficult to see how that promise can be made with so many reports of people unable to get to the Kabul airport.
The Taliban has established checkpoints surrounding the airport in Kabul and while Taliban leadership have promised safe passage for people who want to leave the country, that’s not always happening, according to reports on the ground.