The commercial planes will not fly into Kabul airport but instead be used “for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases,” the Pentagon said in a statement, indicating that they will be used to airlift evacuees from pit stops in Gulf countries. Aircraft being requisitioned include three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.
The US has so far evacuated only around 2,500 Americans from Kabul over the past week, and an estimated 15,000 Americans and upwards of 50,000 Afghan allies still need to be airlifted. The Taliban is not making it easy, with reports of hurdles and threats facing those wanting to leave Afghanistan. US officials acknowledged that Americans have had “tough encounters” with the Taliban in trying to get through to the airport. There has been some talk of US forces going beyond the airport perimeter to facilitate evacuation but the general approach has been one of caution and not wanting to provoke a firefight.
President Biden is expected to address the issue again after he scrapped a scheduled vacation getaway on Saturday following widespread criticism of his administration’s handling of the crisis. A CBS News poll showed nearly 75% of respondents saying the US withdrawal from Afghanistan had gone badly (30%) or very badly (44%), although a majority (63%) supported the withdrawal of US forces.