The evacuation of U.S. personnel and Afghan civilians who worked with the U.S. military hasn't exactly been as organized as government officials may have liked. In addition to the poor optics of seeing C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules transport planes crammed with Afghan civilians, there simply aren't enough of the planes to get everyone out of Kabul by the August 31 deadline. Meanwhile, there are reports the Taliban may be blocking Afghan citizens from reaching the airport.
That is why on Sunday the United States Department of Defense (DoD) activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to assist with those efforts.
"The current activation is for eighteen aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines," the DoD said in a statement.
It did not anticipate a major impact on commercial flights from this activation, however. Additionally, the DoD was quick to note that CRAF activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Instead, the aircraft will support the evacuation in other ways, including the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases.
"CRAF is a National Emergency Preparedness Program designed to augment the Department's airlift capability and is a core component of USTRANSCOM's ability to meet national security interests and contingency requirements. Under CRAF, the commercial carriers retain their Civil Status under FAA regulations while USTRANSCOM exercises mission control via its air component, Air Mobility Command," the DoD added.
This is only the third CRAF activation in the history of the program. The first occurred in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Aug. 1990 to May 1991), while the second was for Operation Iraqi Freedom (Feb. 2002 to June 2003).
The United Way
United Airlines announced on Tuesday that it had completed its first CRAF flight in the ongoing withdrawal of Afghanistan. That particular flight landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 340 American military personnel, civilians, and Afghan evacuees on board. The mission operated as UA2578 on a Boeing 777-300, FoxBusiness reported.
A United spokesperson said that more than 8,000 of its employees stepped up to assist with the Afghanistan evacuation efforts. That included pilots, flight attendants, aviation maintenance technicians, and employees who speak Dari, Farsi, and Pashtu working as interpreters on flights.
"While we are unable to publicly share additional operational details regarding flight schedules, city pairs, and timing, we will continue to fly these missions over the next several days at least," the spokesperson added, while images of the aircraft were shared via United Airlines official social media accounts.
A World Tour of Sorts
According to multiple reports, the United States is flying evacuees from Kabul to Doha, Qatar–home of U.S. Air Force Base (AFB)–as well as to other countries in the region and further away.
"Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan have been, or will soon be, transiting Americans or, in some circumstances, others through their territories to safety," said State Department spokesman Ned Price during a briefing on Friday.
Additionally, more than a dozen other countries including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, have also stepped up efforts to evacuate their citizens from Afghanistan following the takeover of the country by Taliban forces.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.