The Taliban is systematically hunting down Afghan military pilots to cripple the government’s security forces as American troops withdraw from the country, according to a Reuters report.
At least seven Afghan pilots have been assassinated while off base in recent months, according to the report from Reuters. Officials believe the Taliban is deliberately targeting the pilots in order to cut the Afghan Air Force off at the knees and level the battlefield, as the militant group has no air power of its own.
Joe Biden noted in yesterday’s speech that one big advantage for the Afghan government is its air force. The Taliban are on it.https://t.co/UMqwy98B28
— Alex Wayne (@aawayne) July 9, 2021
Reuters was reportedly able to confirm the identities of two of the slain pilots.
41-year-old Dastagir Zamaray was shot dead by a gunman, who also killed his realtor, as he was searching for a new home in a safer part of Kabul to avoid Taliban attacks. Black Hawk helicopter pilot Masood Atal was killed when two motorcycles pulled up beside his Toyota Corolla in Kandahar in December. The two assailants shot him 11 times.
Two days prior to the assassination, he received a death threat over the phone from the Taliban, his brother told Reuters.
Prospects for the Afghan Air Force are already dim as the United States pulls military assets out of the country. The entirety of the force consists of just 160 aircraft and 339 qualified crews to fly them, according to U.S. military documents. As of April, only 140 of the aircraft were classified as “usable” due to maintenance.
The Afghanis do not have the personnel to maintain many of the aircraft and rely on American contractors to perform routine maintenance and repairs. Neither the Pentagon nor the two contractors, Leidos Holdings Inc. and DynCorp International, confirmed what the status of their operations in the country will be once the U.S. withdraws, according to Reuters.
Some members of the Afghan Air Force have fled the country. Helicopter pilot Naiem Asadi told Reuters he went to New Jersey to seek asylum because the Afghan military wasn’t doing enough for its pilots.
“They spend a lot of money on (the training) of these pilots, but they can’t spend any money on the pilots for their security,” Asadi said. He alleged that pilots weren’t always paid regularly and that salaries were not equal. (RELATED: Out Goes Biden, In Comes Iran: US Adversaries Swarm To Fill Vacuum Created By Afghanistan Withdrawal)
Others in the Afghan military have fled across the border to places like Tajikistan, but the Taliban is gradually taking hold of more border crossings as its offensive surges across the country.
The amount of territory controlled by the militant group has reportedly doubled since President Joe Biden announced the U.S. withdrawal from the country, and the Taliban claims it now controls up to 85% of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is scrambling to evacuate interpreters who have aided the American mission in Afghanistan since it began in 2001. They, too, are being targeted for assassination by the advancing Taliban. (RELATED: Joe Biden Refuses To Answer Further Questions About Afghanistan In Testy Exchange With Reporters)
The Taliban has been about its intentions. The militants “targeted and eliminated” the pilots “because all of them do bombardment against their people,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.
“Targeting those who bombard civilians, who drop blind bombs on civilian houses, is an obligation for us and we will do this,” he added.