Former Afghan air force pilots renew plea for Canada’s help

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Former Afghan air force pilots renew plea for Canada's help

Some of the military pilots who fled Afghanistan the day the government collapsed are now in the United Arab Emirates.

They are part of a group of ex-Afghan air force members who were held at camps in Uzbekistan, where they landed on Aug. 15, the day the Taliban marched into Kabul.

The fate of a separate group of military fliers in Tajikistan — who appealed for asylum in Canada in an interview with CBC News at the end of August — remains unclear.

One of the pilots now in Tajikistan, who spoke CBC News via WhatsApp today, said they have not heard about their fate and renewed their appeal for help to the Canadian government.

“We will wait to see what happens,” said the pilot, who flew AC-208 Eliminators; CBC News has chosen to protect his identity because of the threat of retaliation against his family still in Afghanistan. “My friends and I still have interest in going to Canada.”

An Afghan Air Force AC-208 Eliminator used for ground attack. Known as a Cesna with a Hellfire, an aircraft like this was used by former Afghan military pilots to flee Kabul in the hours after the Taliban overthrew the democratically elected government. (U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)

Former U.S. Air Force brigadier-general Dave Hicks said he and other American veterans have banded together to lobby both Congress and the State Department to help the Afghan military pilots now in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan who were trained as part of the western military advise-and-assist mission.

Hicks said just under 500 former Afghan air force pilots, ground crew and other military personnel were evacuated from Uzbekistan yesterday and today. In the UAE, U.S. officials will complete the vetting process, which is expected to take two weeks.

Hicks told CBC News in an interview that reaching all of the fliers in Tajikistan has been tougher and that about half of the more than 100 former Afghan military personnel there have undergone their preliminary biometric scans and fingerprinting in preparation for travel to Canada or the U.S.

He said that process could take several weeks.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a picture of them on the ground in a third country where they can do the proper paperworks and vetting and hopefully get them over here safely,” said Hicks, who commanded the military air training mission in Kabul in 2017 and is part of the non-profit group OpSacredPromise.org, which is attempting to help resettle  former Afghan air force personnel.

‘There is no guarantee that they will not be killed’

Reuters was the first to report late Sunday on the Uzbekistan evacuation.

The Canadian uncle of one of the Afghan pilots has written a personal appeal to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau calling on Canada to assist the men. The Taliban have demanded that the air force personnel be returned to Afghanistan, along with their aircraft and equipment.

“As a citizen of this country, it is my right to know what they can do,” said the pilot’s uncle, who immigrated to Canada nearly 20 years ago. He asked CBC News for anonymity because he still has relatives in Afghanistan and fears Taliban reprisals.

The hardline Islamist Taliban movement — which, prior to the end of the war, had waged a campaign of assassination against military pilots — has promised amnesty for those who return. The pilot’s uncle said the fliers don’t trust the Taliban’s word.

“There is no guarantee that they will not be killed,” the uncle said.

The Afghan pilots in Tajikistan were warned recently by a former military colleague still in Afghanistan that the Taliban were applying “severe pressure” on neighbouring governments to expedite their return.

A copy of the former military colleague’s phone message to the pilots was obtained by CBC News and translated.

Hicks said he believes Canada could be a good home for some of the pilots.

“I can see a role for Canada with the right personnel to give them an opportunity to bed down and start a new life,” said Hicks, who flew A-10 ground attack planes in 2010 to support Canadian troops in Kandahar.  



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