Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has officially given the order to activate the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, requesting that US commercial airlines provide the military with 18 aircraft to help with evacuations from Afghanistan.
The specifics of the order tap American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Airlines, Omni Air and Hawaiian Airlines to provide the required planes.
According to Defense One, the commercial aircraft will not be required to go all the way to Afghanistan. Instead, they will be flying in and out of staging bases in undisclosed locations in the Middle East. From there, they will take American citizens and their Afghan allies to US and worldwide destinations.
The Civil Reserve Air Fleet is, as defined in its charter, "a cooperative, voluntary program involving the [Transportation Department], DoD and the U.S. civil air carrier industry in a partnership to augment DoD aircraft capability during a national defense related crisis."
"Air carriers volunteer their aircraft to the CRAF program through contractual agreements with U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), located at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. In return, the participating carriers are given preference in carrying commercial peacetime cargo and passenger traffic for DoD."
The agreement has been in effect since the 1950s.
So far, some 22,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban have taken the country over days ago. 17,000 of those 22,000 have been evacuated in the past week alone. In addition, further troops have been sent to Afghanistan in the interim. Foreign airlines are also being considered for being contracted directly by the DoD in order to further increase capacity.