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Exclusive: U.S. hopes to soon relocate Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan, official says

The United States intends to relocate approximately 150 Afghan Air Force pilots and personnel who have been detained in Tajikistan for over two months, according to anonymous State Department officials. The Afghan personnel, who were trained by the US, flew to Tajikistan after the Afghan war ended. Details of the US plan to move the detained Afghan personnel to a third country for eventual US resettlement have not been previously reported. The Afghan personnel, who have had their phones and identity documents confiscated, represent the last major group of US-trained pilots believed to be in limbo after dozens of advanced military aircraft were flown across the Afghan border to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in August during the final moments of the war with the Taliban. US lawmakers and military veterans who have advocated for the pilots have expressed frustration over the time it has taken for the Biden administration to evacuate them. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed on the issue in Congress last month.

In September, a US-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates. Two detained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan said their hopes were lifted in recent days after visits by officials from the US embassy in Dushanbe. Although they have not been given a date for their departure, the pilots said US officials obtained the biometric data needed to complete the process of identifying the Afghans. The pregnant Afghan pilot who voiced her concerns about the risks to her and her child at the remote sanatorium has been moved to a maternity hospital and will be included in the relocation from Tajikistan. Even before the Taliban’s takeover, US-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban after the damage they inflicted during the war. Taliban operatives tracked down and assassinated the pilots. Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.

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