Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has taken the highly unusual step of activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, asking U.S. airlines and charter carriers to transport Afghan evacuees from locations in the Middle East and Europe to other areas of the world.
In a statement the Pentagon said on Sunday that Austin called for a first stage mobilization of CRAF to perform airlift services. This first stage asks for a limited amount of aircraft — three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four Boeing 777s from United Airlines, for a total of 18 planes.
“CRAF activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul,” Defense officials said. “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.”
DoD said it “does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.”
Airlines on Friday were asked to get ready in case they would be needed to ferry thousands of people who have been rescued from Kabul since the Taliban took over Aug. 15. Military aircraft have moved approximately 7,000 U.S. citizens and personnel, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan to locations such as Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
This is only the third time the CRAF has been activated since it was created after World War II. The CRAF was established in 1951 as an emergency authorization to use commercial and charter planes to augment airlift and resupply missions. It was previously used during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990 and again in 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.