Afghan Pilots Who Sought Safety in Uzbekistan Transfer to U.S. Base

Afghan Pilots Who Sought Safety in Uzbekistan Transfer to U.S. Base

WASHINGTON (AP) — According to the office of Representative August Pfluger, who has been in contact with one of the pilots and his wife, an initial group of Afghan pilots who flew themselves and their family members to safety in Uzbekistan aboard Afghan Air Force aircraft were transferred to a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

Two more groups of Afghan pilots and their families are expected to fly out in the next few days as part of a deal negotiated by the US with Uzbekistan to relocate more than 450 Afghans.

The Afghan pilots, whom the Taliban regard as among the most despised members of the Afghan military for their role in conducting airstrikes against Taliban fighters, have been caught in a delicate diplomatic tug of war since fleeing their country last month as Kabul’s government collapsed.

Taliban leaders have been putting pressure on the Uzbek government to hand over the pilots, who fear for their own and their families’ safety. The US, for its part, has been relying on the Uzbeks to allow the Afghans to leave and fulfill its promise to secure safe passage for key members of the Afghan military who fought alongside the US.

Since 2010, the Pentagon has spent more than $8.5 billion to build a capable and sustainable Afghan Air Force and its special mission wing.

Former American service members, many of whom trained and served alongside Afghan pilots and maintenance crews, as well as members of Congress, have been working closely with the State Department to coordinate transfers to U.S. bases in the Middle East and, eventually, to the United States.

“I’m glad they’re getting out, but it wasn’t an easy process,” said Mr. Pfluger, a Texas Republican and former Air Force F-22 pilot, over the phone. “The pilots were the most lethal part of the Afghan military, and we must do everything we can to protect them.”

Mr. Pfluger stated that he became involved after a constituent married to an Afghan pilot contacted his office. Jerri, a United States citizen, met the pilot while he was training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Jerri said her husband texted her on Sunday afternoon to say he had arrived in Abu Dhabi International Airport after a month in Uzbekistan. He stated that there were approximately 175 people on his flight.

“I feel so much better,” said Jerri, a 33-year-old hairstylist in San Angelo, Texas, who declined to give her full name out of fear of retaliation against her husband’s family members who remain in Kabul. “I haven’t felt so relieved in a long time.”

Jerri stated that she was unsure when her husband would be able to visit the United States. When they last spoke, he said he was being tested for the coronavirus and was waiting for the results.

What exactly are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994, in the midst of the upheaval that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. To enforce their rules, they used brutal public punishments such as floggings, amputations, and mass executions. Here’s more on their history and record as rulers.

What are the Taliban’s top leaders’ names? These are the Taliban’s top leaders, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in prison, and avoiding American drones. Little is known about them or their plans for governance, including whether or not they will be as tolerant as they claim. According to one spokesman, the group wanted to forget its past, but there would be some constraints.

“Once he’s processed out, hopefully he’ll be coming to Texas or somewhere in the United States so we can go get him,” she said. “The ultimate goal is for him to return home.”

It was unclear whether the Afghans would eventually be transferred to the United States or elsewhere.

Even if all of the pilots, maintenance crews, and relatives are safely transferred from Uzbekistan to the US military evacuation pipeline out of Afghanistan, Mr. Pfluger said the fate of the more than 40 helicopters and airplanes the pilots flew into Uzbekistan remained unknown.

“We don’t want them to end up in the hands of the Taliban or Al Qaeda,” he explained.

During the final months of fighting, the small but professional Afghan Air Force provided air support to beleaguered Afghan ground forces, as well as supplying and evacuating hundreds of outposts and bases across the country.

However, Afghan aircrews quickly found themselves spread thin and overworked with planes that were becoming increasingly grounded after American military contractors who provided the majority of aircraft maintenance left when the majority of US troops left in early July.

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Afghan Pilots Who Sought Safety in Uzbekistan Transfer to U.S. Base