In an effort to speed up evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense has activated its Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), a 70-year old program used to enlist the aid of commercial airlines in the case of a “major national defense emergency.”
Pentagon Activates CRAF, Will Utilize 18 Aircraft From Six U.S. Airlines For Afghanistan Evacuation
With thousands of Americans and Afghans attempting to flee Afghanistan as the Taliban reassert control, a massive Kabul Airlift has begun.
What is CRAF?
Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is a Department of Defense program dating back to the early days of the Cold War, specifically the 1948 Berlin Airlift, in which commercial airlines are enlisted to provide a back-up to military airlines.
This marks the third time CRAF has been activated, with previously uses in the two Iraq wars:
- 1991 – Operation Desert Storm (1st Gulf War)
- 2004 – Operation Iraqi Freedom (2nd Gulf War)
While U.S. commercial airlines will not fly into Kabul (KBL), they will fly into either Bahrain or Qatar to transport U.S. citizens and refugees onward.
Which Airlines Are Part Of CRAF?
The CRAF activation is for 18 aircraft, including:
- American Airlines – 3 aircraft
- Atlas Air – 3 aircraft
- Delta Air Lines – 3 aircraft
- Omni Air – 3 aircraft
- Hawaiian Airlines – 2 aircraft
- United Airlines – 4 aircraft
United’s first CRAF already departed, UA2586, traveling from Frankfurt Hahn (HHN) to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar (XJD) on a Boeing 777-300ER (N2352U).
It then returned from Al Udeid to Ramstein Air Base (RMS) in Germany operating under UA2579
On Tuesday, UA2586 will again operate from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Ramstein.
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines sent an Airbus A350-900 into Frankfurt from Detroit last night, operating under DL8822. Today, DL8822 will operate from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Ramstein and then continue to Dubai World Center (DWC).
Was CRAF Really Necessary?
Some Republicans have asserted this is a political bluff meant to downplay the gross incompetence of the Biden Administration in ceding control over Afghanistan so rapidly to the Taliban and failing to even ensure safe passage to the airport. They assert that the airlines were already able, willing, and preparing to operate these missions (unlike during the Gulf Wars) and thus commandeering these aircraft by activating CRAF was nothing more than a political stunt.
But Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said:
“CRAF activation provides the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility resources 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.”
United Airlines added:
“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.”
American, Delta, and United say impact on commercial passenger operations will be minimal.
18 airliners from six U.S. airlines will be aiding in evacuation efforts of U.S. citizens and refugees from Afghanistan. Operations have already commenced, with these airlines transporting passengers from U.S. bases in the Gulf region, rather than directly from Afghanistan.