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Pentagon orders activation of US airliners for Afghan airlift

Evacuation operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport

The US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet on Sunday to aid efforts to evacuate Afghans out of the country.

In a statement on August 22, SECDEF instructed the Commander of US Transportation Command to activate the Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF).

At this stage, 18 commercial aircraft will be activated, three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.

The Pentagon said it does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.

As per the plan, the airliners will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where the US and ally forces have been working 24/7 since August 14 to evacuate as many Afghan as possible from the Taliban-occupied city.

Instead, the aircraft 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 Kabul.

The decision follows a deadly stampede on Sunday, in which seven people lost their lives after the Taliban opened fire outside the airport’s gates. At least 20 persons have been killed since the begin of the operation to evacuate interpreters and people who worked for the former regime, NATO said on Sunday.

The Civil Reserve Air Fleet is a National Emergency Preparedness Program designed to augment the defense 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).