A group of US-trained Afghan Air Force (AAF) pilots who flew military aircraft to escape to neighboring Uzbekistan are now at the Emirates Humanitarian City in the UAE.

The flight carried a group of 175 pilots, who were then transferred to a US military base in Abu Dhabi on September 12, 2021, US Republican Representative of Texas August Pfluger told the Wall Street Journal. 

This is the first batch of pilots of as many as 475, meaning the transfer should take several waves for the entire group to be safely flown out of Uzbekistan.  The final goal is for all of them to reach the United States. 

Pfluger said that the pilots’ safe transfer was the result of a series of tense negotiations between the United States and the Uzbek government, with the latter facing mounting pressure from the Taliban to hand over the Afghan personnel and aircraft. 

It has been a harrowing escape for the Afghan pilots who flew out of Afghanistan in the final days before losing the war to the Taliban. Uzbek authorities reported that 46 out of the 160 aircraft of the AAF left the country, including 11 Cessna C-208 utility aircraft, 10 A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes, and several helicopters including UH-60 Black Hawks.

Reaching Uzbekistan was just the first step. As they feared that harboring Afghan refugees would not sweeten any relations with the new leaders of Afghanistan, the Uzbek government sought the help of the United States..

The Taliban have said that they will not harm military personnel who return to Afghanistan to join the country’s revamped security forces. 

However, US-trained, English-speaking Afghan pilots have become special targets of the Taliban long before the fall of Kabul.  In July 2021, as the U.S. military started withdrawing, seven Afghan pilots were assassinated by the Taliban.

Afghan military pilots are prime targets of the Taliban, who have no air force. Eliminating AAF pilots will cripple any attempt at creating a rebellious military force, as pilots take years to train and are difficult to replace. 

“It has not been a smooth process, but I’m happy that they’re in another country,” commented Pfluger. 

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