US Airlines Activated by the Department of Defense to Help Evacuation Efforts in Afghanistan

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The Pentagon announced on Sunday that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had ordered the commander of the United States Transportation Command to launch the first stage of its civilian reserve air fleet to help transport U.S. citizens, visa applicants to special immigrant and other vulnerable people outside Afghanistan.

The Austin directive will activate 18 commercial flights to aid in the evacuation efforts: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.

The planes will not fly to Hamid Karzai International Airport, but will instead be “used for the subsequent movement of passengers from temporary shelters and interim transit bases,” the Pentagon said in a press release.

A sign of the gravity and urgency of the situation, this is the third time the program has been activated in its history, the first two being Operations Desert Shield / Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon.

Activation of the program will increase “the movement of passengers beyond organic capabilities and allow military planes to focus on operations to and from Kabul,” the defense ministry said.

The Pentagon has said it does not anticipate any “major impact” on commercial flights.

CNN has contacted the airlines for comment.

Delta is expected to have several relief flights arriving in the United States from Monday morning, the airline said on Sunday, adding that it had been in contact with the Department of Defense for several days before the military requested support. of a commercial airline.

American said it would be ready to deploy “three wide-body aircraft”, starting Monday, while United Airlines said it was activating four Boeing 777-300s and still trying to gauge the extent of what should be a “small” impact on the rest. of its operation.

“The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” American said in a statement on Sunday. “The airline is proud and grateful for our pilots and flight attendants, who will be making these trips to be part of this life-saving effort.”

Atlas Air is “proud to provide” the Pentagon “with essential passenger services to the region at this critical time. We are doing everything possible to provide the capacity essential to support the evacuation efforts,” a spokesperson told CNN. of the society. .

More than 20,000 people in and around Kabul airport tried to board flights out of the country, amid one of the largest airlifts in history.

Images and reports have emerged of families scaling the walls of the airport, with a video of a baby being hoisted on razor wire towards a US Navy. Around 20 people are believed to have died as a result of being pushed around or shot in the past week. Seven Afghan civilians died in crashes near the airport on Saturday, a spokesperson for the UK Ministry of Defense confirmed to CNN.

CNN’s Pete Muntean, Sheena McKenzie and Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.


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