Detained Afghan pilots preparing to fly out of Tajikistan on U.S.-brokered flight -Breaking
© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: An American-trained Afghan pilot who is pregnant poses for a photograph on October 5, 2021. REUTERS/File photo
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – More than 150 U.S. trained Afghan pilots, and other personnel were held in Tajikistan since they fled with their planes when the Taliban took control of their country. Two pilots, and other close friends, said that the U.S. government had arranged for them to fly on Tuesday.
They had spent the day at Dushanbe airport waiting for their flight, which appeared to be delayed. They wanted it to be confirmed and would fly before midnight.
A Taliban spokeswoman said that the Afghans hope they will soon be able to return home. She was speaking under anonymity.
For comment, the U.S. Embassy at Dushanbe couldn’t be reached immediately.
U.S. veterans and lawmakers became increasingly concerned about the plights of Afghan pilots, including one in a highly advanced stage of her pregnancies. They were frustrated at what they perceived as a slow U.S. relocation process.
After arriving in Tajikistan on advanced military aircraft, the two were arrested by Tajik authorities. The hope is that they will be allowed to relocate to another country to receive U.S. resettlement.
Reuters exclusive firsthand account from pregnant pilots and others about frustrations over their detention. It was the first news source to reveal U.S. plans of relocating them.
Afghan Air Force personnel flew many advanced military aircraft from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan during August’s Taliban victory.
These Afghan pilots are believed to represent the largest group of U.S. trained pilots that fled overseas and remain in limbo.
The United States brokered a deal that allowed more Afghan pilots and military personnel to fly from Uzbekistan, September to the United Arab Emirates.
Because of their damage caused during wartime, U.S.-trained pilots were prime targets for the Taliban even before they took over. The Taliban obtained the names of these pilots from their base and killed them.
Afghanistan’s new leaders have stated that former military personnel will be invited to the reformed security forces, and will do no harm. Reuters spoke to pilots that believe they could be killed if the Taliban allow them back into Afghanistan.
In September, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that he is concerned about pilots in Tajikistan. He said that he would cooperate with the State Department “to see if this can be moved forward.”
The process of moving the Afghans from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan proved more difficult and time-consuming.
Reuters received information from a U.S. official stating that Tajik authorities were not able to grant access authorizations for American pilots.
Many of the Afghan pilots were kept in a Tajikistan sanatorium. Reuters reported that those in the group communicating with Reuters used cell phones, which were kept secret from guards. They also claimed that Tajik authorities had taken their identification documents.
The 29-year old pregnant pilot spoke out about her worries regarding the risks that the remote sanatorium posed to her baby and herself in a Reuters interview. After being moved to a hospital for obstetrics, she was transferred to the sanatorium before her departure.
“We feel like prisoner here. Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. She stated last month that she does not have the legal documentation or means to purchase anything for herself.
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