Major air carriers American and Southwest airlines on Monday joined the Afghan evacuation effort, freeing up parts of their fleets to aid in the US withdrawal from Kabul.
American is deploying three wide-body planes to US military bases and other third-country sites to transport Afghan refugees who were flown out of Kabul airport by military aircraft — with Southwest announcing it will dispatch four flights on Monday, Fox Business reported.
“This is a challenging time and, like always, we are stronger when we come together around a common purpose and work together for the greater good,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in an Instagram post on Sunday.
The commercial airplanes are part of a Civil Reserve Air Fleet announced by President Joe Biden on Sunday, with the flights intended to ease the pressure on US military forces as they scramble to evacuate thousands of Afghans seeking to flee after the country collapsed to the Taliban after an American withdrawal.
Massive crowds, including US citizens, mobbed the airport at Kabul last week as US forces rush to evacuate them by Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for doing so.
Government officials said Sunday that as many as 20,000 remain in and around the airport, where Taliban militants have so far maintained an uneasy understanding with the US military to help control the crowds.
The civil air fleet is expected to eventually consist of 18 airplanes from various other airlines, including Atlas Air, Delta Airlines, Moni Air, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines.