Exclusive echo, uncertainty of Afghan pilots in Tajikistan while waiting for U.S. help Reuters


© Reuters. File photo: On January 15, 2016, at Hamid Karzai International Airport near Kabul, Afghanistan, an Afghan Air Force Marshal rides an A-29 Super Toucan. The photo was taken on January 15, 2016. Matches Air Force/Technology with USA-Afghanistan/Pilot USA Special Report.Handout by Sergeant Nathan Lipscomb/via Reuters/File Photo


Phil Stewart

Washington (Reuters)-An Afghan pilot trained in the United States was using a cell phone smuggled from Tajikistan where he was detained to socialize with Reuters. When something strange happened-his voice began to circulate. Repeating everything he just said verbatim.

His fiancee, an American nurse in Florida, also hung up and began to panic. She called his name, but his words kept repeating.

“I was terrified,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect him. “I thought of the worst thing.”

Regardless of the cause of the phone breakdown, it only happened once, which made the couple even more anxious. Since fleeing Tajikistan on August 15, Afghan pilots and personnel have been detained by the government in Tajikistan, and they have become increasingly impatient and uncertain.

143 Afghans were detained in nursing homes in the mountainous countryside outside the Tajik capital Dushanbe, waiting and hoping that the United States would transfer them for more than a month.

The Afghans flew there with 16 planes because their army ground forces collapsed before the Taliban advanced, and the Afghans said their mobile phones were taken away. They initially lived in the university dormitory and then moved on September 1.

Contact with family members is extremely limited. Although they seem to be held in humane conditions, they are nervous and full of uncertainty about the future.

“We don’t know our destination… We are all worried,” the pilot said.

The pilot hopes to join other Afghan soldiers who are applying for US visas in places such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Germany.

“Whenever we ask the Tajik government, they will answer:’Please wait,'” said another pilot, who asked not to be named.

The second pilot told Reuters that there were two Afghan women among the military personnel at the facility, including a pilot who was eight months pregnant.

David Hicks, a retired American Brigadier General, said that such a pregnancy would be an important reason for their rapid transfer. He is helping to lead a charity called “Operation Divine Commitment”, which is dedicated to the evacuation and resettlement of Afghanistan. people.

There are 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, and conditions are much more relaxed. Several of the pilots told Reuters that they flew to the country on August 15 and are currently living in government buildings. They said in the video call that they had no contact with Afghans in the nursing home.

The pilot could not explain why the two groups were separated.

The US State Department declined to comment on the Tajik pilots. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan did not respond to a request for comment.

In the final moments of the war, dozens of advanced aircraft flew across the border of Afghanistan to the country and Uzbekistan. Afghan pilots trained by the United States in Tajikistan were the last group of Afghan Air Force personnel still in trouble.

In early September, a deal brokered by the United States allowed more Afghan pilots and other military personnel to fly out of Uzbekistan. Some English-speaking pilots there feared that they would be sent back to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan by the Uzbeks and killed for causing so many Taliban casualties in the war.

‘No domestic emergency’

The new rulers of Afghanistan said they will invite former military personnel to join the country’s reorganized security forces, and they will not suffer any harm.

For Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters, this proposal sounds hollow. Even before the Taliban took over, English-speaking pilots trained in the United States had become their main target. Taliban fighters tracked them down and assassinated them outside the base.

The pilot did not express concern that the Tajiks would send the group back to the Taliban. But more than a month later, the pilots and their supporters complained that the authorities lacked the urgency to push the organization forward.

Reuters has learned that US officials have begun collecting biometric information to confirm the identities of members of the organization, indicating that help may come soon. Before these pilots were transferred from there, similar efforts were made in Uzbekistan.

People close to the pilots said that so far, the United States has collected biometric data for about two-thirds of pilots.

Paul Stransky, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, believes that when the Taliban came to power, President Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan might be proud of his role in receiving pilots.

Tajikistan shares a 835-mile (1,345-kilometer) border loophole with Afghanistan. It has separated from its more reconciled neighbors and has bluntly expressed its concerns about the new Taliban government in Afghanistan.

“The Tajik government may be playing this, trying to get some benefits,” Stransky said. “Without domestic urgency, Rahmon might say:’We are providing housing for these people.'” It is believed that about a quarter of the population of Afghanistan is Tajik, although there is no recent census data. But they and other ethnic minorities are not represented in the Taliban provisional government, and Rahmon publicly raised this point.

Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Rahmon last week as saying: “Imposing any political system on Kabul without considering the voice of the Afghan people composed of different races may lead to serious negative consequences.”

Tajikistan stated that in the past 15 years, it has provided asylum to more than 3,000 refugee families from Afghanistan, a total of 15,000 people.

A Tajik government source familiar with the situation accused the United States and Canada of delaying the issuance of visas.

For safety, no phone

When the Tajik government confiscated the mobile phones of the Afghans, it told the pilots that it was for their safety and explained that the Taliban could track their signals when they called home.

“For the safety of your family, you must not use your cell phone,” a Tajik official said of the second pilot.

Tajik government sources also said that the Afghans had their mobile phones taken from them, so their exact location could not be traced.

But to a large extent, being cut off from communication has caused psychological losses. The pilots feared that their families in Afghanistan might be retaliated by the Taliban, and as the war failed, they had no income to feed them.

The second pilot recounted the experience of seeing people walking back and forth outside the nursing home in the middle of the night.

“Whenever I ask people why… they (say):’I didn’t relax, I was thinking about my family,'” he said.

This American nurse, who has dual citizenship in the United States and Afghanistan, and her fiance only rarely speak. After a technical failure, the voices of the pilots began to circulate, and they paused the conversation for a period of time.

After calling the offices of American lawmakers and government officials, the nurses sounded tired and frustrated due to lack of progress.

She said: “I have actually contacted anyone, everyone I can reach.” “No one can help.”

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