United Airlines fleet helps fly Afghan refugees and Americans to safety

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Monday, August 23, 2021
United Airlines fleet help fly Afghan refugees, Americans to safety
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A United Airlines 777 filled with Afghan refugees was among the first to escape a Taliban takeover of their homeland.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The chaotic Afghanistan refugee situation now stretches from Kabul to Germany and Washington D.C. to Wisconsin. There are thousands of Afghan refugees coming to America, flown from their homeland to gateways in the Middle East and Europe and then in a huge airlift overseas to this country. Chicago-based United Airlines is among the carriers pressed into duty tonight by the Biden Administration.

A United Airlines 777 filled with Afghan refugees was among the first to escape a Taliban takeover of their homeland. The United plane arrived at Dulles Airport in Washington this afternoon, ferrying displaced Afghan nationals who had made a temporary stop in Germany at the Ramstein Air Base, serving as headquarters for U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

"It's enormous because it is such a huge humanitarian mission. What I can tell you each one of these C-17's we've gone from 75 passengers on up to 400," Colonel Adrienne Williams, 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing Commander.

Thousands of Afghan refugees are here now, waiting for transportation to the U.S.

"I just rushed out to the airport. But the only people I could get in was my father and older sister. There was US soldiers shooting at the gate, Taliban soldiers at the gate. People running out left and right. It was a really bad situation," said evacuee Haseeb Kamal.

Their difficult-and sudden-journey began at the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. Currently, Pentagon officials say more than 200 aircraft from the U.S. military and several commercial airlines are working to move people to safety, what the head of U.S. Transportation Command tonight describes as "keeping the iron in motion."

For some refugees on Monday, the latest stop was in Wisconsin. An initial group of Afghan nationals now at Fort McCoy, among 37,000 who have been shuttled out of Afghanistan in the past week.

"We believe there are several thousand Americans in Afghanistan, who would like to leave," said Ned Price, State Department Spokesperson.

Despite almost 11,000 people being flown out of the Kabul airport within just a twelve-hour period today, there are still Americans and Afghans there and trying to get out.

Chicago-based United Airlines, American and Delta are providing planes and crews as part of the "Civil Reserve Air Fleet," the Pentagon program started almost 70 years ago. It is activated only in a "major national defense emergency"; something that has happened only twice, until now.