Uzbekistan is warning the U.S. that Afghan pilots trained by American forces who fled to the Central Asian country after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan may face expulsion.
Hundreds of Afghan service members fled to Uzbekistan aboard dozens of U.S.-supplied planes and helicopters, along with families and colleagues, after the Taliban seized control of the capital city of Kabul earlier this month.
Uzbekistan, however, is now urging the U.S. to extract those Afghan pilots to a different country to avoid clashes between them and the Taliban, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing officials.
Uzbekistan has continued relations with the Taliban for years, the Journal noted.
The issue of U.S.-trained Afghan pilots in Uzbekistan came under increased attention after Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a former U.S. Air Force pilot, asked Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden directs DHS to take lead on resettling Afghan refugees Top Chinese diplomat calls for world to ‘positively guide’ Taliban US, 97 other countries say they expect Taliban to ensure ‘safe and orderly’ travel out of Afghanistan MORE to get involved with the situation and help the pilots who are at risk of retaliation from the Taliban, the Journal reported.
The State Department responded to questions on the matter, saying, “We thank the Uzbek government for continuing to host Afghans in Uzbekistan while we pursue all avenues for their long-term safety and security,” according to the newspaper.
The State Department, however, has been slow in responding to the situation, the Journal reported, citing a foreign official, which has frustrated the Uzbek government.
Pfluger said Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the U.S. last week told him that the pilots “don’t have to go home, but they can’t stay here,” pointing to pressure from the Taliban stemming from the matter, the Journal reported.
The Taliban are now reportedly pressing officials at the Uzbekistan Embassy in Kabul to send the pilots back, a foreign official told the Journal, warning that their families in Afghanistan will be at risk if they are not sent back immediately.
Chaos ensued in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized Kabul more than two weeks ago, prompting evacuations of American citizens and Afghan allies by the U.S. military.
The U.S. pulled more than 79,000 civilians from the country since Aug. 14, according to U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie.
McKenzie on the evacuation operation: Since Aug. 14, US military evacuated more than 79,000 civilians, including 6K Americans
US & coalition aircraft altogether evacuated 123,000 civilians
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) August 30, 2021
The last U.S. military flight departed Afghanistan on Monday afternoon, putting an end to the longest war in U.S. history.