U.S. President Joe Biden has announced that he will complete his withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, “ending the longest war in U.S. history,” while pledging to continue supporting the Afghan government and security forces. As the U.S. continues to withdraw its forces, the Taliban, a militant group, continues to occupy various regions of Afghanistan, while Afghan Air Force pilots have become one of the Taliban’s top assassination targets, as Afghan Air Force pilots are Afghanistan’s most valuable military asset.
According to Reuters, senior Afghan government officials say at least seven air force pilots have been assassinated off base in recent months, and both U.S. and Afghan officials believe that military pilots trained by the U.S. and NATO have become the Taliban’s top assassination target because they are Afghanistan’s most valuable military asset.
U.S. and Afghan officials pointed out that Afghan Air Force pilots can launch air strikes against assembled Taliban forces, transport special forces anywhere, and provide emergency evacuation services for Afghan ground forces. Every dead pilot is a serious blow to the Afghan defense force.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense statistical report, the Afghan Air Force consists of 339 qualified aircrews and 160 aircraft, taking into account maintenance logistics, the available fleet is only 140 aircraft, including the U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and C-130H transport aircraft. The U.S. contractor must also be responsible for the maintenance of the A-29 Superjaws attack aircraft, AC-208 light aircraft, and MD-530 helicopters. The U.S. Department of Defense has previously warned that if the Afghan Air Force loses the support of its military contractors, the Afghan fleet will lose its effective operational capability within months.
Naiem Asadi, a former Afghan helicopter pilot, arrived in New Jersey in June seeking political asylum, questioning the Afghan Air Force’s money to train pilots but not to maintain their safety, and alleging that not all pilots receive the same pay and that racial discrimination has a huge impact on the Air Force.
Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, said the Afghan government is not taking the Taliban’s death threats seriously enough, and even her fellow pilots believe women should not be pilots, and have not been paid for a year in the past, so she decided to leave the Afghan Air Force and seek asylum in the United States.
The Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Masood Atal, was assassinated by Taliban gunmen on Dec. 30 last year. His relatives alleged that Atal had requested bodyguards and a bulletproof car in the past, but the Afghan military rejected his request, accusing the Afghan military of being very weak in these matters.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that an assassination program for Afghan Air Force pilots has been launched and that they “will be targets to be annihilated. The Afghan government has not made public the number of officers currently being assassinated, while the U.S. Department of Defense said several Afghan officers have indeed been killed in assassinations claimed by the Taliban, but declined to disclose the results of the military’s investigation report.