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What Do U.S. Airlines Have To Do With Afghanistan?

As American Troops start to depart from Afghanistan, following two decades in the country, chaos has unfolded as the Taliban entered Kabul.

The Taliban, who had been in power from 1996 up until the US arrived in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, are set to run a frightening regime. During their previous rule they controlled the country brutally, carrying out public executions and amputation, banning women from work and forcing them to wear the burka.

On Monday 16th August crowds started to gather at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan, the day before the Taliban swept into power. After the Islamist group took power, it sparked chaos in the capital city as thousands attempted to get to the airport in an attempt to flee the country.

As thousands got onto the airport tarmac, planes started to take off, with desperate Afghanis clinging on to the outside of US military planes in a a bid to escape the country. As of Monday, more than 200,000 people in and around the Kabul airport had tried to board flights out of the country.

U.S. Airline Involvement

In a bid to speed up Afghanistan evacuation efforts, The Pentagon ordered U.S. commercial airlines to provide their planes to collect passengers. Rather than flying into Kabul airport, which has become increasingly dangerous and treacherous to get to, planes will land in military bases or transit points in Europe and the Middle East. This will enable military aircraft to focus on operations directly in and out of the Afghan capital, the Pentagon have said.

The program is known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), a 70-year-old program which has only been utilised twice before. The activation this time round is for 18 aircraft, three from each American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Atlas Air, Omni air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.

“CRAF activation provides the Department of Defence access to commercial air mobility 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,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

United Airlines’ first aircraft flew on Sunday to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The plane is expected to fly with evacuees back to the U.S. however scheduling could change. The airline is expected to utilise four of its Boing 777-300 planes which seat 350 passengers for the order.

Speaking on the matter, United Airlines have said that the responsibility has been embraced.

“We embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like these and use our expertise to ensure the safe passage of our fellow countrymen and women as well as those who have risked their lives to help keep them safe,” the airline said.

The situation was described by American Airlines as “hearbreaking”, as they prepared to deploy planes from Monday. “The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this life-saving effort.”

American Airlines and Southwest started deploying planes on Monday whilst Delta is scheduled to have multiple relief flights which were due to land back in the US on Monday. Delta also stated that it had been in contact with the Defence Department for several days leading up to the military’s ask for commercial airline support.

Delta’s Chief of Operations John Laughter stated that “For decades, Delta have actively played a role in supporting the U.S. military and our troops and we are again proud to pledge Delta people and our aircraft in support of our country’s relief efforts.”

Photo: Ministry of Defence via AP

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