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November 29, 2023
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Eighteen aircraft from six US airlines have been commissioned by the US Department of Defense to assist with the evacuation of US citizens from Kabul (Afghanistan). For the first time in eighteen years, the DoD has activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to assist the US Air Force with the evacuation. US airlines assist with Afghanistan evacuations.

The situation in Kabul changed in absolute chaos when the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban took over the Afghani capital on August 15. Since then, thousands of Western citizens, applicants with special visas, and Afghani nationals who over the year have worked and collaborated with Western countries have tried to leave the country. Kabul airport is controlled by the US military, but the entrance is strictly controlled by Taliban forces who prevent nationals from fleeing their country. 

While the USAF has successfully evacuated a great number of US citizens and refugees who are eligible for evacuation, the Department of Defense on August 22 called on US airlines to assist with the evacuation. From Monday, August 23, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Atlas Air, and Omni Air will have aircraft ready at military bases in the Gulf region including bases in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as safe havens in Europe. The airlines will not operate directly into Kabul as the situation there is not safe.

United has made available four Boeing 777-300ERs, some of which were already on their way to Qatar on Sunday. American said it will deploy three wide-body aircraft. Delta has offered three aircraft that are part of its reserve fleet, so the carrier doesn’t expect the CRAF activation will impact its regular operations. Atlas Air will also deploy three passenger aircraft, with ACMI and charter specialist Omni Air International offering the same number of aircraft. Hawaiian Airlines has provided two aircraft.

It is only the third time in the history of the CRAF scheme that the DoD has activated commercial aircraft for military and/or humanitarian relief operations.  From August 1990 till May 91, airlines assisted with the evacuation from Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Eleven years later, from February 2002 until June 2003, CRAF was activated during Operation Iraqi Freedom that resulted in overthrowing Saddam Hussayn as the dictator of Iraq.

The DOD hasn’t specified how long it will need assistance from the airlines. 

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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