The Biden administration activates the civil reserve air fleet and orders US commercial airlines to assist in airlifting US citizens and Afghans from Afghanistan

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An American airline Airbus A321-200 approaches Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on February 24, 2021.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

The Biden government activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet on Sunday and ordered U.S. commercial airlines to provide flights for the evacuation effort in Afghanistan.

CRAF is an almost 70 year old program that was launched in the course of the Berlin Airlift to support a “major national defense emergency” by commercial airlines.

Activation applies to 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.

The flights would not fly to Afghanistan, but would be used to transport those who have already flown out. Those routes could include airmen stranded on U.S. bases in Germany, Qatar and Bahrain, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news.

This is the third CRAF activation in the history of the program. The first happened during Operation Desert Shield / Storm in 1990 and 1991 and the second during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002 and 2003.

– CNBC’s Leslie Josephs and Brian Schwartz contributed to this report.

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