Pentagon orders civilian airlines to assist in Afghanistan evacuation

The Pentagon announced early Sunday that it has activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and is ordering assistance from commercial airlines with the evacuation of Afghanistan.

American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines will provide a total of 18 aircraft to support the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, special immigrant visa applicants and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan, the Department of Defense said in a statement. It added that it does not anticipate a "major impact" to commercial flights from the activation.

The Department of Defense stressed that the commercial aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Instead, they will be used to move passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases.

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The department said activating the fleet “increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of in Kabul.”

The additional 18 aircraft will add to the more than 150 military cargo aircraft that are currently being used by the Biden administration to evacuate U.S. citizens and allies from Afghanistan as the security situation deteriorates amid the Taliban’s ramped-up offensive and as reports of security threats surface.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the administration was considering the activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.

Capt. John Perkins, a U.S. Transportation Command spokesperson, told the newspaper that major airlines received a warning on Friday night that some of their planes may be needed for the evacuation efforts.

This is the third activation in the history of the program, according to the Defense Department, following flights from commercial airlines during Operation Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Pentagon revealed on Saturday that the U.S. has evacuated roughly 17,000 people from Afghanistan in the past week and around 22,000 since the end of July. Approximately 2,500 Americans have been evacuated from the region.

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U.S. officials have disclosed episodes of violence and harassment against Americans and Afghan citizens as they worked to travel toward the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

As a result, the U.S. Embassy in the capital city issued a security alert on Saturday advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and approaching airport gates "unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so," citing "potential security threats" outside the airport.

Multiple outlets on Saturday reported that the U.S. military has been forced to seek out alternative routes to the Kabul airport because of threats to U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from ISIS-K.

Updated on August 23 at 6:49 a.m.