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Pentagon orders U.S. airlines to help evacuate people from Afghanistan

By
Allen Cone & Daniel Uria & Darryl Coote
Children wait for the next U.S. military flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday. Photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries/U.S. Marine Corps/UPI
Children wait for the next U.S. military flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday. Photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries/U.S. Marine Corps/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- The Department of Defense on Sunday compelled U.S. commercial airlines to assist in the evacuation of U.S. personnel and Afghans after the activation of Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet for the third time ever.

Eighteen aircraft -- four from United Airlines, three each from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Atlas Air and Omni Air and two from Hawaiian Airlines -- will be used but they won't be flying into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, according to a news release from the Pentagon. Instead they will be used for "the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases."

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The CRAF activation allows the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility resources "to augment our support to the Department of State in the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan," the Pentagon said.

Twice before the CRAF was activated: support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm from Aug. 1990 to May 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom from Feb. 2002 to June 2003.

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"The DOD's ability to project military forces is inextricably linked to commercial industry, which provides critical transportation capacity as well as global networks to meet day-to-day and contingency requirements," the Pentagon said in the release. "Utilizing commercial partners expands USTRANSCOM's global reach as well as access to valuable commercial intermodal transportation systems."

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said airlines will be compensated as part of the arrangement, and the Pentagon "does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights" as a result of activating the fleet.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS's Face the Nation that they are focused on moving people out as quickly as possible in order to alleviate crowding at the airport.

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About 30,000 people between military and charter flights including 8,000 in the past 24 hours, have been evacuated from the country, he said, and they are in contact with Americans in the country to guide them to the airport, which he said is the "safest and most effective way to get people there, get them in and get them out."

The State Department has made arrangements with more than two dozen countries on four continents to serve as transit or relocation points for evacuees where the United States can finish processing them and conduct security checks.

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"That, too, I think is going to alleviate some of the bottlenecks that we've seen in the system to enable this to flow even more quickly and more effectively," he said.

Fox News also reported Afghans arriving in the United States will be housed at the Dulles Expo Center in Washington, D.C. before being transported to locations that include Fort Lee, Va.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort McCoy, Wis.

Military planes have been used to evacuate people from Afghanistan's airport.

After threats from the Islamic State, defense officials are looking for alternative ways to get Americans, Afghans and third-country nationals safely to the airport in Kabul, NBC News reported.

This includes moving small groups of people from specific locations to the airport in intervals.

On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan warned American citizens not to travel to the airport "because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport."

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday the United States was "placing paramount priority" on preventing or disrupting the threat of an attack by the Islamic State on the airport.

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"The threat is real. It's acute. It is persistent. And it is something we're focused on with every tool in our arsenal," Sullivan said.

In the past week, at least 20 people have died near the airport amid stampedes, a NATO official said in a report by the Independent. Taliban fighters had fired shots into the air to control the crowds.

The British Defense Ministry said that seven Afghan civilians had died in the crowds on Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Since Aug. 14, approximately 17,000 people have been evacuated, including six C-17s and 32 charters of approximately 3,800 Friday.

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