This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S.-trained Afghan pilots who flew themselves and their family members to Uzbekistan before the Taliban takeover have begun departing the country.
They are being transferred to a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), according to The New York Times, quoting the office of Representative August Pfluger (Republican-Texas).
One of the pilots told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the group of pilots started departing the country on September 12 and that they initially are heading to the U.A.E.
Two other groups of pilots and their relatives are expected to fly out of Uzbekistan in the next day or so, The New York Times said.
The transfers come under a U.S. deal with Uzbekistan reached despite Taliban pressure for the return of the pilots and the Afghan military aircraft.
The Biden administration reached the agreement last week, The Wall Street Journal reported on September 11. According to the newspaper, the pilots and their families total 585 people.
The pilots flew their families to Uzbekistan aboard the Afghan military aircraft to escape the Taliban, who quickly overran government forces last month as the United States pulled its troops out of Afghanistan.
The United States fears the pilots could be killed if they were returned to their country.
Military pilots are believed to be among the members of the Afghan forces most despised by the Taliban for the carnage they wrought from the air, the newspaper said.
“I’m very happy they’re getting out, but this was not a smooth process,” Pfluger told The New York Times in a telephone interview. “The pilots were the most lethal part of the Afghan military, and it’s very important to do whatever we can to protect them.”