Middle East/North Africa

Afghan pilots to be transferred to US base after fleeing to Uzbekistan: WSJ

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A group of Afghan Air Force pilots who sought refuge in Uzbekistan after the Taliban overran the Afghan government will be transferred to a U.S. military base, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The pilots could be transferred as soon as the weekend under a deal reached between the U.S. and Uzbekistan, the Journal reported, cited people familiar with the matter.

The Afghans are expected to fly to the U.S.’s military base in Doha, Qatar, where they will be processed for further travel. It wasn’t clear where the pilots would ultimately settle. 

The State Department and Uzbek officials in Washington declined to comment to the Journal.

The Hill has reached out the State Department and White House for comment.

When the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan last month, about 46 aircraft with a total of 585 Afghan pilots, crew and their families fled to Uzbekistan.

The pilots and their aircraft has posed an issue for the Uzbek government since they arrived, and the country has been under pressure by the Taliban to hand over the Afghan nationals. 

Last month, Uzbekistan warned the U.S. to move the pilots to another country to avoid friction with the Taliban. If the United States did not make accommodations, the pilots would face expulsion.

Uzbekistan has maintained relations with the Taliban, even before the militant group took over Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the Journal that the pilots should return to Afghanistan. 

“These pilots should return to their country, the country needs them,” Shaheen said. “We are just starting to rebuild our country. The world should help us, instead of hurling hurdles in the way of reconstruction of Afghanistan and economic prosperity of our people.”

The U.S. withdrew its military presence completely from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, after evacuating over 124,000 people, including over 6,000 Americans.

However, the Biden administration is still looking to evacuate the roughly 100 Americans who remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal.

The White House evacuated 31 U.S. citizens late last week on charted flights.

Tags Afghanistan Joe Biden Kabul Qatar Taliban offensive Uzbekistan

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