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Pentagon orders US airlines to help evacuate Americans, Afghans

A U.S. Air Force security forces raven, secures a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Crul)
August 22, 2021

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered on Sunday the activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to assist with the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, Special Immigrant Visa Applicants and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan, according to a statement by Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby emailed to American Military News.

In the first stage, the Defense Department is requesting three aircraft each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Airlines, and Omni Air, as well as two from Hawaiian Airlines and four Boeing 777s from United Airlines, totaling 18 aircrafts.

The Pentagon’s full statement read:

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered the Commander of U.S. Transportation Command to activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). CRAF activation provides the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility resources to augment our support to the Department of State in the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan.

The current activation is for 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines. The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.

CRAF activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases. Activating CRAF increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of in Kabul.

CRAF is a National Emergency Preparedness Program designed to augment the Department’s airlift capability and is a core component of USTRANSCOM’s ability to meet national security interests and contingency requirements.  Under CRAF, the commercial carriers retain their Civil Status under FAA regulations while USTRANSCOM exercises mission control via its air component, Air Mobility Command.

This is the third CRAF activation in the history of the program. The first occurred in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm (Aug. 1990 to May 1991), and the second was for Operation Iraqi Freedom (Feb. 2002 to June 2003). 

The DOD’s ability to project military forces is inextricably linked to commercial industry, which provides critical transportation capacity as well as global networks to meet day-to-day and contingency requirements.  Utilizing commercial partners expands USTRANSCOM’s global reach as well as access to valuable commercial intermodal transportation systems. 

The Secretary greatly appreciates the support of our industry partners in this critical mission.

On Friday, an administration official told American Military News in an email that the Biden administration has evacuated “approximately 13,000 people on US military aircraft since August 14, and relocated approximately 18,000 people since the end of July. The US military evacuated 5,700 people in last 24 hours alone. The US military evacuated 3,000 people since last night’s update.”