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Pentagon Orders 6 US Airlines to Assist With Relocating Afghan Evacuation

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

The Pentagon called in U.S. commercial aircraft Sunday to help move people that are evacuating from Afghanistan.

NPR reports that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program (CRAF) to secure three aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines and four from United Airlines.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the planes will be used for "the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases" outside of Afghanistan. 

He said utilizing the CRAF program will allow "military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of Kabul."

This is the first time the civil airline reserve system has been used since 2003 during the Iraq War. It was first activated from Aug. 1990 to May 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. 

"The threat is real, it is acute, it is persistent and something we're focused with every tool in our arsenal," said President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Sullivan said on CNN's "State of the Union" that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on U.S. military flights within the past 24 hours. 

And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told ABC's "This Week" that Biden will decide whether his Aug. 31 deadline for ending the evacuation operation will be enough time or if more is need. 

Thousands of Americans and others have yet to be evacuated. 

"We're gonna try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out," Austin said. "And we've got - we continue to look at different ways to - in creative ways - to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield."

Austin stated that he could not determine exactly how long the evacuation process will take, which started on Aug. 14.

"In terms of what we'll be able to accomplish going forward, you can't - we can't place a, you know, a specific figure on exactly what we'll be able to do, but I'll just tell you that we're going to try to exceed expectations, and do as much as we can, and take care of as many people as we can, for as long as we can," he said.

The conditions in Kabul has remained chaotic since the Taliban took over the capital on Aug. 15. 

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