US

Afghanistan: Commercial airlines help evacuees get to destination cities as migrants arrive in US 

The nation’s Big Four Airlines — American, Delta, United, and Southwest — are working with the United States government to help transport Afghan evacuees to their destination cities.

Southwest started chartering domestic flights for evacuees on Monday as the U.S. government works to accelerate efforts to evacuate vulnerable Afghans amid the Taliban insurgence.

‘We are proud to support our military’s critical humanitarian airlift mission, and we are grateful to our employees for demonstrating an eagerness to support these military efforts,’ Southwest said in a statement provided to ABC News.  

As of Monday morning, 25 U.S. Military C-17s, three U.S. Military C-130s and 61 charter/commercial flights have departed Kabul, carrying a total of approximately 16,000 passengers. Of that number, the U.S. military transported just under 11,000 personnel. 

Commercial airlines are working with the United States government to help transport Afghan evacuees to their destination cities (Pictured: A family evacuated from Kabul walking through the terminal after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021)

As of Monday morning, 25 U.S. Military C-17s, three U.S. Military C-130s and 61 charter/commercial flights have departed Kabul, carrying a total of approximately 16,000 passengers (Pictured: A family member evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, left, is greeted by a relative as they arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport on Aug. 21, 2021)

As of Monday morning, 25 U.S. Military C-17s, three U.S. Military C-130s and 61 charter/commercial flights have departed Kabul, carrying a total of approximately 16,000 passengers (Pictured: A family member evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, left, is greeted by a relative as they arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport on Aug. 21, 2021)

Nearly 28,000 Afghans and Afghan Americans have been evacuated since the Taliban took control of the country's government last week, including 11,000 just this past weekend (Pictured: A man waves as he and other Afghanistan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport)

Nearly 28,000 Afghans and Afghan Americans have been evacuated since the Taliban took control of the country’s government last week, including 11,000 just this past weekend (Pictured: A man waves as he and other Afghanistan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport)

The U.S. has welcomed the first of 65,000 Afghan people that President Joe Biden hopes to resettle, with well-wishers bringing them books, toys and diapers to help them settle in. Nearly 28,000 Afghans and Afghan Americans have been evacuated since the Taliban took control of the country’s government last week, including 11,000 just this past weekend.

Last week, the president said he wanted to rescue up to 15,000 Americans living in Afghanistan, as well as up to 65,000 refugees and people whose work with U.S. forces made them eligible for a special interest visa (SIV). Roughly 2,000 refugees have been relocated so far, a majority to Fort Lee, Virginia, according to the State Department, near where dozens of residents donated clothes, toiletries, diapers, baby formula, toys and books to the arriving families.

Southwest is operating four flights on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week strictly designated for evacuee transport. 

The air carrier said their team ‘stands ready to provide additional support to the Department of Defense, if needed’. 

Southwest declined to specify the origin or destination cities of these flights due to the fact that they are charted by the government.

Evacuees have already begun arriving at Fort Bliss in Texas, officials confirmed to the KVIA. They expect more Afghan refugees to arrive in the next few days.

Officials say those going to Fort Bliss include special visa applicants, their families and other at-risk individuals.

Fort Bliss will provide evacuees with the basic necessities of medical care, housing, transportation and logistical support.

A team of approximately 1,000 service members, referred to as ‘Team Bliss,’ was assembled to aid in ‘Operation Allies Refuge,’ which is the U.S. government’s ongoing military operation to airlift at-risk Afghan civilians out of the country.

Evacuees have began arriving at Fort Bliss in Texas (pictured). The Department of Defense, in support of the Department of State, is providing transportation and temporary housing to Afghan refugees in support of Operation Allies Refuge

Evacuees have began arriving at Fort Bliss in Texas (pictured). The Department of Defense, in support of the Department of State, is providing transportation and temporary housing to Afghan refugees in support of Operation Allies Refuge

Refugees are being flown into Fort Bliss (pictured) where they will be provided with the basic necessities of medical care, housing, transportation and logistical support

Refugees are being flown into Fort Bliss (pictured) where they will be provided with the basic necessities of medical care, housing, transportation and logistical support

A team of approximately 1,000 service members, referred to as 'Team Bliss,' was assembled to aid in 'Operation Allies Refuge,' which is the U.S. government's ongoing military operation to airlift at-risk Afghan civilians out of the country

A team of approximately 1,000 service members, referred to as ‘Team Bliss,’ was assembled to aid in ‘Operation Allies Refuge,’ which is the U.S. government’s ongoing military operation to airlift at-risk Afghan civilians out of the country

However, several hundred touched down at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington D.C. on Friday, the Washington Post reports, and were shuttled overnight to the Northern Virginia Community College in Annadale, where the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management set up more than 500 cots – provided by the college – in an event center, gymnasium and community rooms. 

Pentagon officials are preparing Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey to temporarily house Afghan refugees, according to the Wall Street Journal. A tent city was erected at the base and officials have begun installing necessary medical supplies, food, water, restrooms, lighting and equipment. Evacuees are expected to arrive to the base this week.

The government is also considering housing refugees at bases in Fort Pickett, Va., Camp Atterbury, Ind., Camp Hunter Liggett, Calif., and Fort Chaffee, Ark., as well as some U.S. bases in Japan, Korea, Germany, Kosovo, Bahrain and Italy.

The Pentagon previously announced that refugees will be housed at Fort Lee, Va., Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

On Sunday, the Pentagon called up 18 civilian aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air, among others, to aid in the efforts to carry evacuees to temporary locations.

American, Delta, Atlas and privately owned Omni Air are provided three aircraft each, Reuters reported. Hawaiian Airlines will be providing two flights and United four. 

The flights will be transporting refugees from ‘staging locations’ in places like Qatar and Germany; none of them will be landing in Kabul. 

Last week, Biden said he wanted to rescue up to 15,000 Americans living in Afghanistan , as well as up to 65,000 refugees and people whose work with U.S. forces made them eligible for a special interest visa (Pictured: Afghanistan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport)

Last week, Biden said he wanted to rescue up to 15,000 Americans living in Afghanistan , as well as up to 65,000 refugees and people whose work with U.S. forces made them eligible for a special interest visa (Pictured: Afghanistan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport)

In a statement provided to ABC News' Sam Sweeney, Southwest said they are 'honored' to be assisting the government and notes that the charter flights will not disrupt their scheduled routes or operations

In a statement provided to ABC News’ Sam Sweeney, Southwest said they are ‘honored’ to be assisting the government and notes that the charter flights will not disrupt their scheduled routes or operations

This is reportedly the first time since 2003 that the U.S. has leaned on the commercial airline industry.

‘It’s a program that was designed in the wake of the Berlin airlift after World War Two to use commercial aircraft to augment our airlift capacity,’ Biden said in an address from the White House on Sunday afternoon. He said the airlines voluntarily signed up for the program.

Southwest, who said they are ‘honored’ to be assisting the government, notes that the charters will not disrupt their scheduled routes or operations. 

In a statement provided to the Wall Street Journal, United said they also expect ‘minimal impact’ to routine operations and said: ‘We embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like these and use our expertise to ensure the safe passage of our fellow countrymen and women as well as those who have risked their lives to help keep them safe.’ 

American, who is also slated to begin its charters on Monday, said they are removing three aircrafts from their operations and ‘[working] to minimize the impact to customers’.

‘The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking. The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this lifesaving effort,’ the airline said in a statement.

Delta is using spare planes for the efforts and notes their commercial operations will not be impacted. 

Roughly 2,000 refugees have been relocated so far, a majority to Virginia (Pictured: A child refugee from Afghanistan looks at a service dog as his family waits to board a bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021)

Roughly 2,000 refugees have been relocated so far, a majority to Virginia (Pictured: A child refugee from Afghanistan looks at a service dog as his family waits to board a bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021)

The Pentagon previously announced that refugees will be housed at Fort Lee, Va., Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin (Pictured:  A woman evacuated from Afghanistan steps off a bus with a baby as they arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va. on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021)

The Pentagon previously announced that refugees will be housed at Fort Lee, Va., Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin (Pictured:  A woman evacuated from Afghanistan steps off a bus with a baby as they arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va. on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021)

Some refugees were brought to a Navy base in Italy on Sun. Aug. 22, 2021, where they will wait for further relocation. The U.S. government is considering temporarily housing refugees on bases in Japan, Korea, Germany, Kosovo and Bahrain as well

Some refugees were brought to a Navy base in Italy on Sun. Aug. 22, 2021, where they will wait for further relocation. The U.S. government is considering temporarily housing refugees on bases in Japan, Korea, Germany, Kosovo and Bahrain as well

Over the weekend, volunteers brought pizza, snacks and water to the refugees housed at Northern Virginia Community College, as the evacuees told their stories, which many of the volunteers could relate to, as they were also of Afghan descent.

One such volunteer was Salima Khan, 22, who said her parents were born in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and ultimately escaped when the Taliban took over the country the first time in the 1990s.

‘So I feel like I’m rewatching what they went through – but now with all of this support,’ she said. ‘They didn’t have that.’

‘We just want to hare their pain,’ added another man, who just gave his first name, Nasrul, out of fear for the safety of his siblings who are still in Afghanistan. ‘We are not in Afghanistan, but we are in sorrow.’

He said he decided to help out because he thought he might be able to get the refugees to relax, telling the Post: ‘At least these lives are safe now.’

Some refugees arrived in Annandale, Virginia on Saturday, where dozens of volunteers provided them with clothes, diapers, toiletries and games

Some refugees arrived in Annandale, Virginia on Saturday, where dozens of volunteers provided them with clothes, diapers, toiletries and games

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, wait outside the terminal to board a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, wait outside the terminal to board a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021 

Afghan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport

Afghan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport 

A man evacuated from Afghanistan steps off a bus with a girl in his arms as they arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va. on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport

A man evacuated from Afghanistan steps off a bus with a girl in his arms as they arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va. on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport 

Afghan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport

Afghan refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport 

But not everyone is.

Daryoush Amiri, a Fairfax resident, said his wife and two young kids flew to Kabul to visit other family last month, and were supposed to arrive home on August 16 ‘but it was canceled and then the government collapsed.’

He said his family was able to fly to Qatar on a crowded flight out of the country, and are now in Germany unsure what to do.

And a 32-year-old father, who also asked not to be named as he feared for the safety of his family, fled the country and arrived in Virginia with his one-year-old son – but had to leave behind his wife and daughter.

He told the Post he was able to get a Special Immigrant Visa due to his work with a Pakistani cargo company that contracted with the United States military, but was unable to secure safe passage for his wife and daughter after two nights outside the Kabul airport, because they did not have the proper paperwork.

‘It is difficult to be with a baby and be his mother and his father,’ the man said. ‘No one can feel my sensation. I repeatedly, repeatedly cried – this is his time to be with his mother.’

He said he knew the baby could not stay in the country, so he brought him along and is holding out hope that his wife and daughter will eventually make their own way into the United States.

‘He still asks me for his mom,’ the father said of his young son.

People took pictures as a commercial plane carrying refugees made its landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport on Sunday Aug. 22, 2021

People took pictures as a commercial plane carrying refugees made its landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport on Sunday Aug. 22, 2021

Refugees from Afghanistan are escorted to a waiting bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021

Refugees from Afghanistan are escorted to a waiting bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021 

Some evacuees have been granted Special Immigrant Visas to ensure their safety (Pictured: Refugees from Afghanistan wait to board a bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021)

Some evacuees have been granted Special Immigrant Visas to ensure their safety (Pictured: Refugees from Afghanistan wait to board a bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021)

Meanwhile, more refugees were being flown into the United States and its allies on Sunday, with a Navy base on the Italian island of Sicily tweeting that about 650 people were flown into the base in just one day.

‘I could not be prouder of every single one of you,’ Captain Kevin Pickard, the commanding officer at NAS Sigonella told a group of personnel from the US Air Force, Marines, Navy and State Department before the first flight into the base arrived Sunday. ‘To see how this base is able to pull in support, all across Italy, is truly impressive.’

The base is serving as a transit location while refugees wait further transportation to more permanent settlements in the United States. 

‘The people we’re helping are going to be joining our American family,’ Pickard said. ‘We’re proud to welcome them with open arms.’

President Joe Biden on Sunday said U.S.- led forces have expanded the perimeter of and 'increased access' to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, adding that the Taliban has been 'cooperative in extending the perimeter'

President Joe Biden on Sunday said U.S.- led forces have expanded the perimeter of and ‘increased access’ to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, adding that the Taliban has been ‘cooperative in extending the perimeter’

President Joe Biden on Sunday said U.S.- led forces have expanded the perimeter of and ‘increased access’ to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, adding that the Taliban has been ‘cooperative in extending the perimeter.’

‘The Taliban has not taken action against US forces’ since it overran the capital, Biden said at a Sunday news conference.

He had previously said that the US military operation in Afghanistan would end on August 31, but pushed back the timeline on Sunday, according to the Washington Post, saying the Taliban’s takeover has extended that date.

The president also thanked refugee support groups and others who were helping to rescue and acclimate the people who had flown into the United States over the past few days, and reiterated that everyone arriving in the country ‘will have undergone a background check.’ 

The president also shared that he has been touched by the support he has seen from community organizations across the nation.




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