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U.S.-Trained Afghan Pilots Land In Abu Dhabi After Evacuation From Tajikistan

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The pilots and other Afghans at the airport in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting for their flight organized by the U.S. government on November 10.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Scores of U.S.-trained Afghan pilots and crew members who fled the Taliban takeover arrived in Abu Dhabi, evacuated from Tajikistan after months of uncertainty about their final destination.

The November 10 arrival of the group, which also included others who had fled Afghanistan, put an end to a saga that saw the pilots flying Afghan Air Force jets and other planes across the border to escape the Taliban.

The U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan said earlier that 191 Afghan evacuees, including 143 pilots, were scheduled to depart for United Arab Emirates.

The evacuees were set to be taken to a third country for processing before being granted immigration rights to the United States, the embassy said.

Among the pilots were two women, one of whom is pregnant, along with a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

The pilots played an important role in the years-long war against the Taliban, flying alongside U.S. pilots and conducting air strikes that repeatedly drove Taliban fighters from positions in different parts of the country.

The U.S. war ended in August, with the pullout of all American forces, a chaotic withdrawal that stranded many of the U.S. allies, trained personnel, and others.

After flying out of Kabul in mid-August, the pilots landed in Dushanbe, and were then held at a sanatorium on the outskirts of the Tajik capital.

RFE/RL reported last month that the Taliban pressured some of the pilots to return to Afghanistan by threatening to kill their relatives.

Another, larger group of Afghan pilots, crew members, and relatives flew to Uzbekistan in August, around the same time as the first group arrived in Tajikistan. According to a statement posted to the prosecutor-general's Telegram channel, that group totaled 585 people and included 22 military planes and 24 helicopters.

The following day, however, the office denied its own statement, without explanation, while Uzbek media continue to cite those figures.

In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed that most of that group to be flown out of Uzbekistan, also to United Arab Emirates.

An unknown number of other pilots and crew members are believed to remain in Afghanistan.

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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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