US officials said Sunday that American commercial airlines – including American Airlines, Delta and United – will be marshaled to help the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners from Kabul following its fall to Taliban extremists.

The Pentagon said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had activated the rarely used Civil Reserve Air Fleet to aid the onward movement of people arriving at US bases in the Middle East.

“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,” a statement announcing the move said.

Eighteen civilian craft from American Airlines, Atlas, Delta, Omni, Hawaiian and United will aid dozens of military cargo transports involved in the evacuation, the statement said.

“We’re going to try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out,” Austin said in an ABC interview on the evacuation mission, adding that the same applied to America’s Afghan allies.

Rather than going in and out of the capital, the commercial planes will transport people from US bases in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to European countries and, for many, onward to the United States.

The Civil Reserve Air Fleet has only been activated twice – once to fly troops for the 1990-1991 Gulf War and again in 2002-2003 for the Iraq invasion.

With thousands of troops trying to secure Kabul’s airport, Washington has set a deadline to complete one of the largest evacuation missions the Pentagon has ever conducted by August 31.

But US President Joe Biden has said the deadline could be extended if necessary, pledging to get all Americans and Afghan allies out.

There are up to 15,000 Americans and 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies who need to be evacuated, according to the Biden administration.

On Saturday the Pentagon said 17,000 people had been taken out since the operation began on August 14, including 2,500 Americans, averaging slightly more than 2,000 evacuations a day. Thousands more have left on other foreign military flights.

US authorities have said they hope to ramp up the evacuations to between 5,000 and 9,000 a day.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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