Pentagon Activates 18 Commercial Planes to Evacuate People from Afghanistan

The US Department of Defense has activated 18 commercial airplanes to evacuate people from Afghanistan. The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tasked the US Transportation Command under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program to assign six airlines for the evacuation efforts. The commercial planes will bring back American citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and vulnerable people out of the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

A breakdown of the plan shows that three planes were activated from American Airlines, three from Atlas Air, three from Delta Air Lines, three from Omni Air, two from Hawaiian Airlines, and four from United Airlines. Representatives of their designated airlines have expressed satisfaction and willingness to help with the evacuation initiative.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby revealed that the airplanes will not land directly at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. But they will pick up people from “temporary safe havens and interim staging bases” to given destinations. This is the third time the Civil Reserve Air Fleet will be activated since its establishment in 1951; the first time in 1990 during the Gulf War of Operations Desert Storm, and the second time in 2002 during Operation Iraqi Freedom when the United States invaded Iraq.

Evacuated people will be taken to several countries where they will be safe, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The deployment of commercial airplanes for the movement of people will enable military aircraft to concentrate on targeted operations within and outside Kabul, the largest city and capital of Afghanistan.

“We’ve reached an agreement with about two dozen countries over four continents that are now helping or soon going to help with the transit of people out of Kabul and this is one way to make sure we have enough flight capacity to move people from those places to their ultimate destinations,” Blinken said.

According to intelligence sources, more than 20,000 people are waiting to be airlifted out of Afghanistan, and the designated airlines said they are glad to help. White House officials said the Biden administration has brought out 25,100 people from the country since the Taliban overran Kabul last week Sunday. The US government has also left behind 5,800 US troops to protect the airport in Kabul and there might not necessarily be a need to increase this number.

“At the moment, we believe we have sufficient forces on the ground,” Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said. “But every single day, the president asks his military commanders, including those at the airport and those at the Pentagon, whether they need additional resources, additional troops. So far, the answer has been no. But he will ask again today.”