A clutch of Afghan pilots who fled to the neighboring nation of Uzbekistan say the Taliban will surely kill them if they try and return home.
“If they send us back, I’m 100 percent sure they’ll kill us,” one pilot flatly told Reuters. The airmen were trained by the United States. Many escaped with their own aircraft in the hours before the Taliban overthrew the former Afghan government.
If the new Islamic government elected to keep them alive, the pilots could also become an invaluable store of technical knowledge to the Taliban and help them navigate some of the complex machinery retreating US forces left behind in their harried withdrawal.
“It is imperative that these personnel not fall into the hands of the Taliban both for their safety and the valuable technical knowledge and training they have,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) told Reuters.
The pilots are currently held in an uneasy limbo at a former coronavirus ward near the Uzbek city of Termez. US officials fear the government there is coming under significant pressure by the Taliban to repatriate the pilots.
Uzbekistan would ultimately have to engage in a delicate diplomatic dance about who they valued relations with more, their immediate neighbor, or the United States, experts said.
“They want to have good relations with Taliban. They don’t want to provoke them, but they also don’t want to provoke us,” John Herbst a former US ambassador to Uzbekistan told the wire service.