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Pentagon chief orders US airlines to assist Afghan evacuation

Lloyd Austin has ordered the Commander of US Transportation Command “to activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF).

IANS | Washington |

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has ordered the US airlines to provide 18 aircraft to support evacuation missions from Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

“It was a very rapid, fast-moving, fast-paced evolution,” Austin said. “This all occurred in a span of about 11 days. Nobody predicted that you know, the government would fall in 11 days.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement that Austin has ordered the Commander of US Transportation Command “to activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)”, which provides the Pentagon access to commercial air mobility resources to support evacuation from Afghanistan, Xinhua news agency reported.

“The current activation is for 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines,” said the statement.

The statement added that the commercial planes would not fly into Kabul Airport.

US Military aircraft will focus on operations in and out of Kabul, and commercial planes “will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases,” it said.

This is the third time in history the military has activated CRAF, according to the Pentagon. The first was during the Gulf War and the second was the Iraq War.

The US has been scrambling to evacuate Americans and its Afghan partners from the country since Taliban forces entered the capital Kabul on August 15.

After President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan just over one week ago. Chaos immediately broke out across the country.

Afghans and foreign nationals flooded Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, hoping to escape, but accessing the airport  proved much more difficult than anticipated, with the Taliban taking control of roads leading to the airport, stopping most who passed.