Following the fall of Kabul to Taliban extremists, the US enlisted the help of several major airlines to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans, Americans, and other foreigners.
According to the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to assist in the onward movement of people arriving at US bases in the Middle East.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get every American citizen who wants to get out out,” Austin said in an ABC interview about the evacuation mission, adding that the same went for America’s Afghan allies.
According to the statement, 18 civilian aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas, Delta, Omni, Hawaiian, and United will assist dozens of military cargo transports in the evacuation.
Instead of flying into and out of Kabul, the planes will transport people from US bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to European countries, and then to the United States for many.
With tens of thousands of troops attempting to secure the Afghan capital’s airport, Washington has set a deadline of August 31 to complete one of the Pentagon’s largest evacuation missions ever.
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“We’re going to keep an eye on the situation. And, once again, we must work tirelessly to get as many people out as possible. We’ll make a recommendation to the president as we get closer to that deadline,” he told ABC.
According to President Joe Biden, up to 15,000 Americans should be removed from Afghanistan, with the administration aiming to get at least 50,000 Afghan allies and their families out as well.
There have been reports of Taliban militants intimidating and beating people trying to get to the airport, but Austin said the militants have mostly let Americans pass through safely.
The situation became even more complicated on Saturday, when the US government issued a warning to its citizens to avoid the airport due to “security threats.”
Since the operation began on August 14, the Pentagon said Saturday that 17,000 people have been evacuated, with many of them being flown first to Qatar or Kuwait. There were 2,500 Americans in total.
According to CNN, the US military and its partners have flown out another 7,900 people in the last 24 hours, according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
“We can’t put a specific figure on exactly what we’ll be able to do going forward… but I’ll just tell you that we’re going to try to exceed expectations, and do as much as we can, and take care of as many people as we can, for as long as we can,” Austin told ABC.
The CRAF has only been used twice: once to fly troops during the Gulf War in 1990-91 and again during the Iraq invasion in 2002-2003.