State Dept: Dozens of Afghan pilots close to leaving Tajikistan soon

State Dept: Dozens of Afghan pilots close to leaving Tajikistan soon
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Roughly 150 Afghan Air Force pilots and personnel could be transferred out of Tajikistan soon after waiting several months to be relocated following their exit from Afghanistan, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill.

“The United States verified the identities of approximately 150 Afghans, after gaining access to the last group in mid-October,” the State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.

“The United States hopes to soon relocate all of the identified Afghans together,” including a pregnant pilot whom Reuters has previously reported is among the roughly 150 Afghan pilots and personnel detained in Tajikistan.

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The spokesperson said the department could not provide a timeline on when the pilots would be able to leave the country but noted that “we are in regular communication with the Government of Tajikistan and part of those communications includes coordination in response to Afghan Air Force pilots in Tajikistan.”

The State Department’s remarks were first reported by Reuters.

As the U.S. began winding down its military presence in Afghanistan in August, U.S.-trained Afghan pilots were transferred to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghan pilots and others situated in Uzbekistan were later transported to the United Arab Emirates after the U.S. secured a deal for that relocation, according to Reuters. 

Several Afghan pilots detained in Tajikistan told the news outlet that identity verification was considered the last step before pilots in Uzbekistan could be relocated, and they said that U.S. embassy officials in Tajikistan had met with them recently.

Afghan pilots expressed concern to Reuters about the idea of returning to Afghanistan, warning they could be murdered despite statements from the Taliban claiming that nothing bad will happen to them.