US to use commercial jets to transport people already evacuated from Afghanistan


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

WASHINGTON, Aug.22 (Reuters) – The United States announced on Sunday that 18 commercial planes would be used to help transport evacuees from Afghanistan.

This decision highlights Washington’s difficulty in evacuating American citizens and Afghans at risk following the rapid takeover of the Taliban.

The plane would not fly to Kabul but would be used to transport people who have already been evacuated from Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. He described it as the first step in the program, suggesting that more commercial jets could be used.

American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air would each supply three aircraft, two from Hawaiian Airlines and four from United Airlines.

A United Airlines official said four Boeing 777-300s, which can carry up to around 400 passengers depending on the class layout, have been activated.

This would only be the third time that the United States has activated the “Civilian Reserve Air Fleet”. The first took place during the Gulf War (August 1990 to May 1991), then during the preparation and invasion of Iraq (February 2002 to June 2003).

The United States and other countries, including Britain, sent several thousand troops to handle evacuations of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but stayed away from areas outside of Kabul airport.

Kirby said in a statement that the Defense Department “does not foresee any major impact on commercial flights from this activation.”

The limited number of planes is only one of the problems facing the evacuation. Officials are frustrated by the slowness of processing by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.

Security in Kabul is also a growing concern, where around 5,800 troops protect the airport.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that the United States had “ensured the ability to move large numbers of Americans safely through the airport and onto the airfield.” in Afghanistan.

Last week, the US military used three military helicopters to bring 169 Americans to Kabul airport from a building just 200 meters (656 feet) away. Officials say this type of operation is expected to continue.

The United States on Friday increased the number of places evacuees from Afghanistan would go, including Germany.

Reporting by Idrees Ali, Susan Heavey, Sarah Lynch and David Shepardson; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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