Pentagon activates Civil Reserve Air Fleet: Six commercial airlines including American and Delta are told to loan 18 planes to help Afghanistan evacuation efforts

  • The Pentagon activated on Sunday the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, calling on six different airlines to loan 18 airplanes to assist in evacuating Americans and allies from Afghanistan 
  • They will not fly into Kabul, but help ferry refugees from staging bases in Germany, Qatar, and Bahrain
  • The Pentagon revealed Saturday only 2,500 Americans were rescued from Afghanistan in the past week
  • Up to 15,000 Americans need airlift and the administration hopes to get out a further 50-60,000 Afghans
  • The U.S. Embassy in Kabul tells citizens not to go to the airport amid threat of Islamic State attack  
  • Situation remains chaotic in Kabul on Saturday with at least 12 dead so far in crush to escape 

The Pentagon is calling in reinforcements from six commercial airlines on Sunday in its continued Afghanistanevacuation efforts by activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF).

Eighteen planes will be used for ‘onward movement’ of Americans and Afghan allies who are already in ‘safe havens and interim staging bases’, according to a statement from Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby.

‘The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights for this activation,’ he assures in his statement on the activation.

Stage 1 of the CRAF gives the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility. The commercial aircraft will not be flying into the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Planes used for this stage of evacuation include four from United Airlines, two from Hawaiian Airlines and three from each – American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air.

The planes will be used to aid in the airlift of tens of thousands of evacuees, ferrying Americans and Afghans onward to the U.S. from staging bases in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany.

Military flights will continue to go to the airport in the Taliban-controlled Kabul to get refugees out of Afghanistan and to these regional bases.

The activation comes after the Pentagon said Saturday that they were only able to evacuate 2,500 Americans from Kabul in the past week.

In the last week overall, the U.S. was able to evacuate 7,000 people from the pandemonium at the Kabul airport, including 3,800 from Friday to Saturday.

These new figures, however, show the U.S. has deployed more American troops into the Kabul airport than the number of U.S. citizens it has extracted from the country since the Taliban swept into power on August 14.

Up to 15,000 Americans still need to be evacuated and the administration hopes to get out 50-60,000 more Afghan allies and their families.

Other NATO allies are also hoping to save thousands of people, but the security situation in Kabul appears to be quickly deteriorating, with the US now warning citizens not to attempt to get to the airport amid the threat of attack by Islamic State fanatics who are hiding in the country.

Biden faces growing criticism as videos depict pandemonium and violence outside the airport. On Saturday Biden met with his national security team to discuss the chaotic situation after cancelling his weekend trip to Delaware.

Commercial airlines were notified Friday night that participants in the voluntary Civil Reserve Air Fleet could be activated imminently, according to reports.

Created in 1952 in the wake of the post-World War II Berlin Airlift, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet is a program that airlines can enroll in, pledging a certain number of aircraft to the Pentagon to be available within 24 hours upon activation.

Currently 24 passenger and cargo carriers and 450 aircraft are enrolled in CRAF, including 268 in the long-range international section.

The Pentagon statement on Sunday notes the Fleet was activated twice in the past – from August 1990 to May 1991 in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm and for Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2002 to June 2003.

The Fleet was also used on a large scale in March of 2020, when the Pentagon conscripted commercial jets to repatriate Americans who were trapped abroad when the coronavirus pandemic descended.

The activation comes amid tragic scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the only remaining patch of US control in the country, where thousands are gathered at the Taliban perimeter in a crush to get inside.

Potential Islamic State threats against Americans in Afghanistan are forcing the U.S. military to develop new ways to get evacuees to the airport in Kabul, a senior U.S. official said Saturday, adding a new complication to the already chaotic efforts to get people out of the country after its swift fall to the Taliban.

The official said that small groups of Americans and possibly other civilians will be given specific instructions on what to do, including movement to transit points where they can be gathered up by the military. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

The Islamic State group – which has long declared a desire to attack America and U.S. interests abroad – has been active in Afghanistan for a number of years, carrying out waves of horrific attacks, mostly on the Shiite minority.

The group has been repeatedly targeted by U.S. airstrikes in recent years, as well as Taliban attacks. But officials say fragments of the group are still active in Afghanistan, and the U.S. is concerned about it reconstituting in a larger way as the country comes under divisive Taliban rule.

Time is running out ahead of President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline to withdraw most remaining U.S. troops.

In his remarks on the situation Friday, he did not commit to extending the deadline, though he did issue a new pledge to evacuate not only all Americans in Afghanistan, but also the tens of thousands of Afghans who have aided the war effort since September 11, 2001. That promise would dramatically expand the number of people the U.S. evacuates.

On Saturday Biden spoke with his team at the White House Situation Room about the ongoing  evacuation efforts, counterterrorism operations, and intensive diplomatic efforts to finalize agreements with a third-party country transit hub to help American, who were warned on Saturday not to travel to Kabul airport.

Biden discussed the matters with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines.

Vice President Kamala Harris joined the meeting by video teleconference during her trip to Singapore.

The White House did not indicate whether the president still planned to travel to Delaware on Sunday. The trip would have been his 19th to his home state since taking office.

The Taliban takeover of Afghans last Sunday has consumed his administration, which was caught off-guard by the development and is scrambling to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans who assisted the U.S. during the war, and others.

‘Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,’ Biden had pledged.

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