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Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan say Taliban is threatening relatives back home

Afghan military pilots (S.C. Air National Guard/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Afghan military pilots who fled to Tajikistan when the Taliban seized power in Kabul say the militant group is pressuring them to return to Afghanistan by threatening to kill their relatives.

Trained by the United States, the Afghan pilots say their documents have been completed for traveling and they hope they will soon be able to go to the United States.

But two Afghan pilots who are sheltering at sanatoriums on the outskirts of Dushanbe told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service on October 23 that the Taliban is now trying to force them to return to Afghanistan.

One Afghan pilot, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that his son back in Afghanistan was beaten by the Taliban and that the militants threatened to kill the boy if the pilot did not return.

Another pilot told RFE/RL that Taliban militants have gone to the homes of several of his family members to demand that the pilot return to Afghanistan.

He told RFE/RL that the Taliban has a list of the names of all 143 Afghan pilots now in Tajikistan. He said Taliban authorities are increasing pressure on all of the pilots by threatening their relatives in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied that the Taliban is threatening the relatives of the pilots.

“Nobody cares about them,” Mujahid told RFE/RL on October 23. “They come up with high-profile stories to obtain refugee status. We have said many times that if they return, no one will touch them here.”

In August, shortly after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the Taliban issued a call for all of the U.S.-trained Afghan pilots to join them in order to fly aircraft that the group had seized at military bases across Afghanistan.