Pentagon orders 18 commercial planes to transport Afghanistan evacuees

Kabul airport crowd
A crowd of mostly men gathers on the tarmac of Kabul airport on August 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered six commercial US airlines to help transport American and Afghan evacuees.
  • This is the third time in history the US has deployed civilian aircraft.
  • American and Afghan evacuees have been sent to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday ordered six US commercial airlines to help transport American and Afghan evacuees, activating a little-known program called the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.

The plan calls for the deployment of 18 airplanes: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines, according to a Pentagon statement.

The planes will not fly into the Kabul airport but will be used to transport people who have already left Afghanistan, the Pentagon said. The Department of Defense “does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.”

American and Afghan evacuees have been sent from Kabul to countries sprawled over the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe.

Delta Airlines’ chief of operations John Laughter said in a statementon Sunday that the company is “proud to pledge Delta people and our aircraft in support our country’s relief effort.”

This is the third time the reserve air fleet has been used in its 70-year history, signaling the dire situation to assist American citizens and Afghan refugees. The previous times the US deployed civilian aircraft was during the Iraq war from 2002 to 2003 and the Gulf war from 1990 to 1991.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul a week ago, triggering a collapse of the US-backed Afghan government. Since then, the US has been scrambling to evacuate thousands of Americans as well as Afghans who assisted the US government over the 20-year war.

Austin told ABC News on Sunday that the US is working to get every American out of the country.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News on Sunday that over the past 24 hours, the US evacuated 8,000 people from Afghanistan.