The Defense Secretary, Llyod Austin, ordered activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to evacuate U.S. Citizens and other at risk individuals from Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal of the country and the swift takeover of the Taliban.
The CRAF is a voluntary military-civilian alliance that dates back to 1951 that allows the U.S. military to use commercial aircraft in emergency situations when it needs additional capacity. It has only been activated two other times; Once in 1990 during the Gulf War and again in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.
The partnership has its origins in the Berlin airlift of the Cold War, and allows the Defense Department (DOD) to “to augment… aircraft capability during a national defense related crisis,” according the Transportation Department. In return for signing contracts with the government, the participating carriers are given preference in carrying commercial peacetime cargo and passenger traffic for DOD.
In the case of the Afghanistan evacuation, the civilian aircraft will not fly into the Taliban-controlled Afghan capital. After the military evacuation flights from Kabul, the passengers will land in several safe spots in the region. The commercial aircraft will then pick them up at those locations and bring them to their destinations.
The effort will involve 18 aircraft total from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines, and United Airlines.