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In a rare call to duty, U.S. airlines are being asked to do their patriotic part to help extract civilians in need.

The Department of Defense on Sunday ordered U.S. commercial airlines to provide Afghanistan evacuations for at-risk individuals, special immigrant visa applicants, U.S. citizens and personnel.

This is only the third time commercial airlines have been deployed by the military for assistance, the first for Operation Desert Shield/Storm in the early 1990s, and the second for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002-2003.

The order comes from the Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and will include the use of 18 aircraft from various airlines including four from United, three each from American, Delta, Omni Air, and two from Hawaiian Airlines.

The so-called Civil Reserve Air Fleet is an emergency preparedness method the Pentagon uses to augment it military’s airlift capabilities. These 18 aircraft will not flying into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Pentagon said.

“They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases,” the Pentagon said. “It increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of in Kabul. ”

United said four of its 777- 300 aircraft have been activated and they are still assessing operational impact but expect it to be minimal.

“As a global airline and flag carrier for our country, 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,” a United spokesperson said.

American Airlines said it was working to make its efforts go as smoothly as possible. “American will work to minimize the impact to customers as the airline temporarily removes these aircraft from our operation. The airline appreciates customers’ patience and understanding as it works to accommodate flights.”

On Friday, the Biden administration issued a warning order to airlines that they may be called into action under the Civil Relief Air Fleet.

UPDATED: This story was updated to include comments from American Airlines.

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Tags: afghanistan, airlines, Biden Administration

Photo credit: American Airlines joins other U.S. commercial airlines helping with Afghanistan rescue efforts as part of the Pentagon's Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Sergey Kustov / WikiMedia Commons

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