© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, arrive to provide security in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021. Senior Airman Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force/Hand

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States said on Sunday that 18 commercial aircraft would be used to help transport people who have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

The move highlights the difficulty Washington is having in carrying out the evacuation of U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans following the Taliban’s swift takeover https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-impose-some-order-around-kabul-airport-witnesses-2021-08-22.

The aircraft would not fly into Kabul but would be used to carry people who have already been flown out of Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) said. He described it as stage 1 of the program, suggesting that more commercial aircraft could be used.

American Airlines (NASDAQ:), Atlas Air (NASDAQ:), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:) and Omni Air would provide three aircraft each, two from Hawaiian Airlines, and four from United Airlines.

A United Airlines official said four Boeing (NYSE:) 777-300s, which can carry up to about 400 passengers depending on the class layout, had been activated.

This would be only the third time the U.S. has activated the “Civil Reserve Air Fleet.” The first was during the Gulf War (Aug. 1990 to May 1991) and then during the build up to and invasion of Iraq (Feb.2002 to June 2003).

The United States and other countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to manage the evacuations of foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have stayed away from areas outside of the Kabul airport.

Kirby said in a statement that the Department of Defense “does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.”

Limited numbers of aircraft is just one of the issues facing the evacuation. Officials are frustrated with slow processing by the Department of Homeland Security and State Department.

There is also increasing concern about security in Kabul, where roughly 5,800 troops are protecting the airport.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that the United States has “secured the capacity to get large numbers of Americans safe passage through the airport and onto the airfield” in Afghanistan.

Last week the U.S. military used three military helicopters to bring 169 Americans to the airport in Kabul from a building just 200 meters (656 feet) away. Officials say these type of operations are expected to continue.

On Friday, the United States expanded the number of locations evacuees from Afghanistan would be going to, including Germany.

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