The Pentagon said Sunday it had activated a rarely used program that compels commercial airlines to be used in times of a national emergency, activating 18 civilian aircraft to help evacuate Afghans from Europe and the Middle East.
The orders to the commercial airlines, only the third time in 70 years such a step has been taken, came as part of a furious U.S. effort to ramp up the evacuation as thousands of Afghans crowd Taliban-controlled streets around the international airport in Kabul and amid fears of a terrorist attack.
Among other steps, U.S. officials have designated additional military bases in the U.S. to provide housing for arriving Afghan evacuees, and have eased foreign flight rules to allow overseas carriers to ferry Afghans to the U.S.
Officials said the commercial aircraft wouldn’t fly in and out of Kabul but would ferry evacuees from bases in Germany, Qatar and Bahrain to ease overcrowding pressure and transport bottlenecks.
The Pentagon requested aircraft from six airlines for a period of approximately one to two weeks, defense officials said. American Airlines Group Inc., Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and the Omni Air unit of Air Transport Services Group Inc. are providing three aircraft each, while two planes will come from Hawaiian Holdings Inc. and an additional four from United Airlines Holdings Inc.