Pentagon looking to enlist commercial airlines to help in Afghanistan evacuation

The Pentagon is reportedly looking to enlist help from major U.S. commercial airlines in the Biden administration’s ongoing evacuation effort from Afghanistan, with thousands of American citizens and Afghan allies still waiting to board flights in Kabul. 

Defense Department officials told The New York Times that the U.S. could soon activate the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), created in 1952 following the Berlin Airlift. 

Under the program, up to five airlines would provide a total of nearly 20 commercial jets to boost evacuations as the Biden administration is struggling to meet the demand from droves of people desperate to leave following the Taliban's takeover, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing information from U.S. officials. 

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The commercial planes would add to the more than 150 military cargo aircraft currently in use by the Biden administration, which faces growing pressure to quickly evacuate remaining Americans and Afghan allies amid reports of growing security threats. 

The Times reported that unlike the U.S. military planes, the commercial airlines would not fly in or out of Kabul, but instead would help transport Afghan refugees who have traveled to U.S. bases in surrounding countries, including Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. 

Capt. John Perkins, a U.S. Transportation Command spokesman, told the Times that a warning had been issued to major airlines Friday evening that some of their planes may be needed. 

The Times noted that Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children Russian fighters escort US bombers over Black Sea MORE would need to provide official approval for the plan. 

The Hill has reached out to the Defense Department for comment. 

The State Department referred questions on the reported plans to the White House, which did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

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The Pentagon said Saturday that the U.S. had evacuated about 17,000 people from Afghanistan within the past week, with a total of 22,000 transported out of the country since the end of July. 

U.S. officials have shared instances of violence and harassment against Americans and Afghan civilians attempting to travel to the Kabul airport. The violence has prompted the U.S. embassy there to issue a warning informing people not go to the airport until they are instructed by U.S. officials to do so. 

Multiple reports Saturday also noted that the U.S. military has been forced to find alternative routes to Kabul’s airport amid threats from ISIS-K aimed at Americans, as well as Afghan allies who provided assistance to the U.S. military.