The Pentagon activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) on Sunday to call in reinforcements from six commercial airlines in its ongoing Afghanistan evacuation efforts.
According to a statement from Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby, eighteen planes will be used for the ‘onward movement’ of Americans and Afghan allies who are already in ‘safe havens and interim staging bases.’
“The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights for this activation,” he assures in his statement on the activation.
The first stage of the CRAF provides the Department of Defense with access to commercial air mobility. The commercial plane will not land at Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Four United Airlines planes, two Hawaiian Airlines planes, and three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air planes were used for this stage of evacuation.
The planes will help with the airlift of tens of thousands of evacuees, ferrying Americans and Afghans from staging bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Germany to the United States.
Military flights will continue to fly to Kabul’s airport, which is controlled by the Taliban, to transport refugees out of Afghanistan and to these regional bases.
The activation comes after the Pentagon announced on Saturday that it had only been able to evacuate 2,500 Americans from Kabul in the previous week.
Up to 15,000 Americans remain in need of evacuation, and the administration hopes to evacuate 50-60,000 more Afghan allies and their families.
Other NATO allies are hoping to save thousands of people as well, but the security situation in Kabul appears to be rapidly deteriorating, with the US now warning citizens not to attempt to travel to the airport due to the threat of an attack by Islamic State fanatics hiding in the country.
As videos show chaos and violence outside the airport, Biden is facing increasing criticism. After canceling his weekend trip to Delaware, Biden met with his national security team on Saturday to discuss the chaotic situation.
What is the Civil Reserve Air Fleet?
According to reports, commercial airlines were notified Friday night that members of the voluntary Civil Reserve Air Fleet could be activated at any time.
The Civil Reserve Air Fleet, established in 1952 in the aftermath of the post-World War II Berlin Airlift, is a program in which airlines can enroll, pledging a certain number of aircraft to the Pentagon to be available within 24 hours of activation.
CRAF currently has 24 passenger and cargo carriers and 450 aircraft enrolled, with 268 in the long-range international section.
According to a Pentagon statement issued on Sunday, the Fleet has previously been activated twice: from August 1990 to May 1991 in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and from February 2002 to June 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Fleet was also used extensively in March 2020, when the Pentagon conscripted commercial jets to repatriate Americans who had become stranded abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The activation comes amid tragic scenes at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, the country’s only remaining patch of US control, where thousands have gathered at the Taliban perimeter in a stampede to get inside.