U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has ordered 18 aircraft from U.S. airlines be delivered to the U.S. Department of Defence to help with the effort to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees from Afghanistan according to a press release last Sunday. The aeroplanes 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 Defence 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.
Photo: Omar Haidiri, Getty Images
This image made available to AFP on August 20, 2021 by Omar Haidiri, shows a US Marine grabbing an infant over a fence of barbed wire during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021.
Photo: Shakib Rahmani/AFP, Getty Images
Afghan people sit inside a U S military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021 after Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan.
Photo: Wakil Kohsar, Getty Images
In this picture taken in the late hours on August 22, 2021 Afghans wait outside the foreign military-controlled part of the airport in Kabul, hoping to flee the country following the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan.
Photo: Rahmat Gul, AP
A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021.
Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP, Getty Images
Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan.
Photo: Shekib Rahmani, Getty Images
In this Aug. 16, 2021 photo hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Roughly 22,000 people have been flown out of Afghanistan since mid-July, according to Defence 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.