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Pentagon commissions airlines to assist in Afghanistan evacuations

written by Isabella Richards | August 23, 2021

A file image of an Atlas Air Boeing 747-400F taking off at Sydney Airport. Note the “operated on behalf of Qantas” near the nose. (Seth Jaworski)

The United States’ Pentagon has recruited airlines across the nation to assist in transporting people who fled from Afghanistan from their evacuation bases back to America.

The airlines enlisted include United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines and Atlas Airlines, utilising 18 aircraft for the mission.

It comes under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a US mobility resource that selects airlines to contractually assist in transportation for national emergencies.

The US has evacuated 28,000 people from Afghanistan since 14 August, when the Biden administration withdrew its troops, allowing for the Taliban to dominate the nation.

In a press conference on Sunday, President Joe Biden said “none of them will be landing in Kabul”, due to safety reasons.

The aircraft will fly to the country or military bases where people were transported to from Afghanistan.

This includes transit points in the Middle East and Europe, allowing military jets to focus on operations in and out of the Afghan capital, according to the Pentagon.


“CRAF-activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul,” the release said.

“They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases.”

American, Delta and Atlas will deploy three of its aircraft each, United will deploy four and Hawaiian will use two aircraft.

American and Delta’s flights will start today – 23 August – and both welcomed the commission.

“American … is proud to fulfill its duty to help the US military scale this humanitarian and diplomatic rescue mission. The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” it said in a statement.

United’s first flight flew on Sunday from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, expected to fly the passengers to the US after a refuel stop in Germany.

The Chicago-based airline said it will be using its Boeing 777-300 jets, seating around 350 passengers for the mission.

“We embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like these and use our expertise to ensure the safe passage of our fellow country men and women,” said United in a statement.

The cargo airline Atlas Air said it would be flying its evacuees to the US and will be “standing by” if called upon again.

“As the largest supplier of airlift to the US military, we are proud to provide this essential passenger service in the region at this critical time,” the airline said in a statement.

The Pentagon said flying the evacuees was part of the initial program of the CRAF.

This marks the third time the Department of Defense has activated it, last deployed during the Iraq wars in the early 1990s and 2000s.

“It’s a program that was designed in the wake of the Berlin airlift after World War Two to use commercial aircraft to augment our airlift capacity,” President Biden said on Sunday.

He added that airlines voluntarily signed up for the humanitarian program.


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