US recruits commercial airlines to transport evacuees out of Afghanistan


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WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (Reuters) – The United States has enlisted the help of six commercial airlines to transport people from Afghanistan after they are evacuated as Washington attempts to increase the pace of American and vulnerable Afghans departing Kabul.

The Pentagon said Sunday it called 18 civil aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air and others to move people from temporary locations after landing on flights from Afghanistan, relying on the industry to do so it last called during the Iraq War in 2003.

The move underscores the difficulties Washington is having in carrying out evacuations after the Taliban’s swift takeover.

Thousands of people stayed outside Kabul International Airport on Sunday in hopes of evacuation as armed Taliban pushed back the crowds. Continue reading

“It is a program that was developed after the Berlin Airlift after World War II to use commercial aircraft to increase our airlift capacity,” said President Joe Biden in a speech from the White House on Sunday afternoon, adding that the airlines are volunteering have for the program.

Biden said the flights would bring people to the US or a third country from “staging locations” like Qatar and Germany. He called it the early stages of the program.

“None of them will land in Kabul,” he said.

Privately owned American Airlines (AAL.O), Atlas Air (AAWW.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and Omni Air will each provide three aircraft. There are also two from Hawaiian Airlines (HA.O) and four from United Airlines (UAL.O).

American and Delta said they would launch relief flights on Monday and, along with other airlines, welcomed the call to assist the U.S. military amid the humanitarian crisis.

“American … is proud to do its duty to assist the US military in this humanitarian and diplomatic rescue mission. The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” a statement said.

Biden said the surgery should have minimal impact on commercial flights.

Delta said its commercial operations were unaffected, while American said it “will work to minimize the impact on customers as the airline temporarily closes these aircraft”. United said it is still evaluating the impact but is assuming it will be “minimal”.

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division will meet at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 20, 2021 to provide security in support of Operation Allies Refuge. Senior Airman Taylor Crul / US Air Force / Handout via REUTERS

Atlas Air said it would move evacuees to the United States and “hold them ready if additional capacity is needed”.

‘CIVIL RESERVE AIRFLEET’

In the past 24 hours, about 3,900 people have been evacuated from Kabul on 35 coalition aircraft, including commercial airlines, and 3,900 more on 23 US military flights, according to the White House. A total of around 25,100 people have been evacuated since August 14, it said.

Bahrain’s national airline Gulf Air has operated a flight from Isa Air Base to Dulles International Airport outside Washington as part of the evacuation effort, the Bahraini government’s media office, NCC, said on Sunday.

The United States last used the Civil Reserve Air Fleet in the period before the invasion of Iraq and before the 1991 Gulf War.

The limited number of aircraft is just one of the problems with evacuating from Afghanistan, sending evacuees to a dozen countries. Continue reading

Officials said they were also frustrated with the slow processing by the Ministry of Homeland Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and there were growing concerns about security in Kabul.

The United States and its allies have dispatched several thousand soldiers to organize the evacuation of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have stayed away from areas outside the Kabul airport.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN that the United States had “ensured the ability to safely get large numbers of Americans through the airport and onto the airfield” in Afghanistan but did not provide details.

Last week the US military used three military helicopters to bring 169 Americans from a building 200 meters away to Kabul Airport. Officials say the type of surgery is expected to continue.

Biden said he had directed the State Department to contact Americans stranded in Afghanistan by phone, email, and other means, and that the United States was “executing a plan” to move them to Kabul Airport.

“I’m going to repeat today what I said before: Any American who wants to go home will come home,” said Biden.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting from Andrea Shalal, Sarah N. Lynch, David Shepardson, Ghaida Ghantous, and Simon Lewis; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Grant McCool and Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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