© Reuters. U.S.-trained pilots and other personnel aboard an aircraft that a pilot passenger said was flying from Termez, Uzbekistan, to the United Arab Emirates on September 12, 2021. The Afghan Air Force pilots fled to Uzbekistan in mid-August and had a big chu
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US-trained Afghan pilots and other personnel detained in an Uzbek camp for about a month began to leave the country on Sunday, one of the pilots told Reuters as part of a US deal that despite the Taliban's demands for the return of Afghans and their planes.
The first group will at least initially go to the United Arab Emirates, said the pilot on condition of anonymity. The transfer should be done in several waves, starting on Sunday and continuing until the next day or so.
Reuters was the first to report that the pilots have started to leave Uzbekistan. The US State Department and the Uzbek Mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reuters had previously announced tensions in the Uzbek camp, with pilots fearing they would be sent back to Afghanistan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-theyll-kill-us-afghan-pilots-held- uzbek- camp-fear-fatal-homecoming-2021-09-03 and killed by the Taliban. The Taliban have announced that 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 fighter jets and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, that the pilots were flying into neighboring Uzbekistan when ground forces collapsed and the Taliban came to power.
Current and former US officials have told Reuters that the Taliban have pressured Uzbekistan to hand over the plane and personnel.
John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Uzbekistan, applauded US evacuation efforts, saying the United States owed it to Afghan pilots.
"I hope we have plans to make sure the planes they took out go back to the United States and most definitely not 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, when the Afghan forces melted away last month and called for the return of planes that flew out of the country before their fighters took over Kabul.
Afghanistan's new rulers have announced that they will invite ex-military personnel to join the country's reshaped security forces and that they will not be harmed.
This offer sounds hollow to Afghan pilots who spoke to Reuters. Even before the Taliban took over, English-speaking pilots trained in the United States had become their main targets. Taliban fighters tracked them down and murdered some 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 Termez, pilots had described feeling like prisoners, with severely restricted mobility and inadequate food and medicine.
Hopes 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.
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