Breaking News
0
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your Investing.com experience. Save up to 40% More details

Exclusive-Echoes, uncertainty as Afghan pilots await U.S. help in Tajikistan

WorldSep 22, 2021 07:57PM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
 
2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A member of the Afghan air force marshals in an A-29 Super Tucano at Hamid Karzai International Airport near Kabul, Afghanistan, January 15, 2016. Picture taken January 15, 2016. To match Special Report USA-AFGHANISTAN/PILOTS U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo 2/2

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S.-trained Afghan pilot was talking to Reuters on a smuggled cellphone from Tajikistan, where he is being held, when something strange happened - his voice started looping, repeating everything he had just said, word for word.

His fiancee, an American nurse in Florida, was on the line too and started to panic. She shouted his name, but his words kept cycling back.

"I was freaked out," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect him. "The worst things came to my mind."

Whatever the reason for the telephone glitch, which only happened once, it added to a deep sense of anxiety for the couple. It also came amid growing feelings of impatience and uncertainty among the Afghan pilots and personnel who have been held by the government in Tajikistan since fleeing there on Aug. 15.

There are 143 Afghans detained at a sanatorium in a mountainous, rural area outside of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting and hoping for over a month for transfer by the United States.

After flying there with 16 aircraft as their military's ground forces crumbled before the advancing Taliban, the Afghans say they had their phones taken away. They were initially housed in a university dormitory before being moved on Sept. 1.

Contact with family is extremely limited. Although they appear to be held in humane conditions, they are on edge, uncertain about the future.

"We don't know about our destination. ... We're all worried about that," the pilot said.

The pilots want to join the other Afghan military personnel being processed for U.S. visas in places like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Germany.

"Whenever we ask the government of Tajikistan, they just answer: 'Please wait,'" said a second pilot, speaking separately on condition of anonymity.

Among the military personnel at the facility are two Afghan women, including a pilot who is eight months pregnant, the second pilot told Reuters.

Such a pregnancy would be an important reason to move them quickly, said David Hicks, a retired U.S. brigadier general who is helping lead a charity called Operation Sacred Promise working to evacuate and resettle Afghans.

There are also 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, enjoying much more relaxed conditions. Several of those pilots told Reuters they flew separately into the country on Aug. 15 and are staying in a government building. Speaking in a video call, they said they have not had contact with the Afghans at the sanatorium.

The pilots could not explain why the two groups were being kept apart.

The U.S. State Department declined comment on the pilots in Tajikistan. Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S.-trained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan are the last major group of Afghan air force personnel abroad still in limbo after flying dozens of advanced aircraft across the Afghan border to that country and Uzbekistan in the final moments of the war.

Earlier in September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan. Some of the English-speaking pilots there had feared they could be sent back by the Uzbeks to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and killed for inflicting so many Taliban casualties during the war.

'NO DOMESTIC URGENCY'

Afghanistan's new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the country's revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm.

That offer rings hollow to Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters. Even before the Taliban takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become their prime targets. Taliban fighters tracked them down and assassinated them off-base.

The pilots did not express concern the Tajiks will send this group back to the Taliban. But after more than a month, pilots and their supporters complain about a lack of urgency by authorities to move the group along.

Reuters has learned that U.S. officials have started collecting biometric information to confirm the identities of members of the group, in a sign that help could soon be on the way. A similar effort in Uzbekistan preceded those pilots' transfer from there.

People close to the pilots said the United States had collected biometric data on about two-thirds of the group so far.

Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thinks Tajikistan's president, Emomali Rahmon, may be proud of his role receiving the pilots as the Taliban swept to power.

Tajikistan, which shares a porous, 835-mile (1,345-km) border with Afghanistan, has broken from its more conciliatory neighbors and been outspoken about its concerns over the new Taliban government in Afghanistan.

"The Tajik government is probably playing this to try to get some benefit," Stronski said. "There's no domestic urgency, and it probably suits Rahmon to sort of say: 'We're housing these people.'" About a quarter of Afghanistan's population are believed to be ethnic Tajiks, although no recent census data exists. But they and other ethnic minorities are not represented in the Taliban's interim government, a point Rahmon has made publicly.

"Foisting any political system on Kabul without regard for the voice of the Afghan people, which consists of diverse ethnicities, may lead to seriously negative consequences," Rahmon was quoted by Russia's TASS news agency as saying last week.

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

A Tajik government source familiar with the situation blamed delays by the United States and Canada to issue visas.

NO PHONES, FOR SAFETY'S SAKE

When the Tajik government confiscated the Afghans' phones, it told the pilots it was for their safety, explaining the Taliban could trace their signal when they called home.

"You are not allowed to use your phone for the security of your family," a Tajik official said, recounted the second pilot.

The Tajik government source also said the Afghans' phones were taken from them so that their exact location could not be tracked.

But being largely cut off from communications has taken a psychological toll. The pilots are fearful their families in Afghanistan could suffer Taliban reprisals and, with the war lost, they have no income to support them.

The second pilot recounts seeing people pacing around outside the sanatorium in the middle of the night.

"Whenever I ask someone why ... they (say): 'I'm not relaxed, I'm thinking about my family,'" he said.

The American nurse, who is a dual U.S.-Afghan national, and her fiance have only spoken infrequently. After the technical glitch, where the pilot's voice started looping, they took a break from calls for a while.

The nurse sounded exhausted and frustrated by the lack of progress after calling offices of U.S. lawmakers and government officials.

"I have reached out to literally anyone and everyone I could," she said. "No one has been able to help."

Exclusive-Echoes, uncertainty as Afghan pilots await U.S. help in Tajikistan
 

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at Investing.com’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
 
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
 
Post
Post also to:
 
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
1000
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
 
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
 
Post
 
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
1000
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's Investing.com's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
or
Sign up with Email