US-trained pilots and other personnel on board a plane, which a pilot passenger said, was bound for the United Arab Emirates on September 12, 2021, from Termez, Uzbekistan. Afghan Air Force pilots fled to Uzbekistan in mid-August, a large part of it. Afghanistan’s aircraft fleet with them. The picture was taken by a pilot who wished to remain anonymous. Handout via Reuters.
September 12, 2021
by Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US-trained Afghan pilots and other personnel held in an Uzbek camp for nearly a month began leaving the country on Sunday, one pilot told Reuters, as part of a US deal that calls for the withdrawal of the Taliban. Came though. Afghans and their planes.
The first group is going to the United Arab Emirates at least initially, the pilot said on condition of anonymity. The transfer was expected to happen in several waves, starting on Sunday and ending the next day or so.
Reuters was the first to report that pilots had begun departing Uzbekistan. The US State Department and Uzbekistan’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Reuters previously revealed tensions in the Uzbek camp, with pilots feared to be sent back to Afghanistan camp-fear-deadly-homecoming-2021-09-03 and killed by the Taliban. The Taliban have said they will not retaliate after taking control of the country in August.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to the 46 aircraft, including A-29 light attack aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, that the pilots flew to neighboring Uzbekistan as ground forces collapsed and the Taliban came to power.
Current and former US officials have told Reuters that the Taliban pressured Uzbekistan to hand over aircraft and personnel.
John Herbst, the former US ambassador to Uzbekistan, praised the US evacuation efforts, saying the United States has given it to Afghan pilots.
“I hope we have a plan in place to make sure that the plane they took off goes back to the United States and certainly doesn’t go back to the Taliban,” he said.
The Taliban did not respond to a request for comment on the Uzbek situation. The group seized planes including helicopters and drones as Afghan forces melted down last month, and called for the return of planes flown out of the country before its fighters seized power in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the country’s new security forces without harm.
The proposal is hollow to Afghan pilots speaking with Reuters. Even before the Taliban took over, American-trained, English-speaking pilots had become their prime targets. Taliban fighters traced them and killed some of the pilots. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-pilots-assassinated-by-taliban-us-withdraws-2021-07-09
In the Uzbek camp, near the city of Termezh, the pilots felt like prisoners, with highly restricted movement and insufficient food and medicine.
Expectations began to rise about a week ago when US officials arrived to conduct biometric screening of Afghans – many of whom fled with only clothes on their backs.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols and Humayra Pamuk; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)