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Former Afghan Air Force pilots renew renewed appeal for Canadian aid

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

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

The fate of a separate group of military leaflets in Tajikistan – which appealed for asylum in Canada in an interview with CBC News in late August – remains unclear.

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

“We’re waiting to see what happens,” said the pilot who flew the AC-208 Eliminators; CBC News has chosen to protect its identity because of the threat of revenge against its family who are still in Afghanistan. “My friends and I are still interested in going to Canada.”

An Afghan Air Force AC-208 eliminator used for ground attacks. An airplane like this, known as a Cessna with hell, was used by former Afghan military pilots to flee Kabul hours after the Taliban overthrew the democratically elected government. (US Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)

Former Brigadier General of the U.S. Air Force Dave Hicks said he and other U.S. veterans have joined forces 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 Council-and-Assist mission .

Hicks said nearly 500 former Afghan air force pilots, ground crews and other military personnel were evacuated from Uzbekistan yesterday and today. In the UAE, US officials will complete the review process, which is expected to take two weeks.

Hicks told CBC News in an interview that it has been tougher to reach all leaflets in Tajikistan and that about half of the more than 100 former Afghan military personnel there have undergone their preliminary biometric scans and fingerprints in preparation for trips to Canada or the United States.

He said the process could take several weeks.

“I look forward to seeing a picture of them on the ground in a third country where they can do the right paperwork and review and hopefully get them here safely,” said Hicks, who commanded the military flight training mission in Kabul in 2017 and is part of the nonprofit the group OpSacredPromise.org, which seeks 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 on Sunday on the evacuation in Uzbekistan.

The Canadian uncle of one of the Afghan pilots has written a personal appeal to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and called on Canada to help the men. The Taliban have demanded that air force personnel be sent back 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 almost 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 before the end of the war had waged a murderous campaign against military pilots – has promised amnesty for those who return. The pilot’s uncle said the flyer did not trust the Taliban’s words.

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

The Afghan pilots in Tajikistan were recently warned by a former military colleague still in Afghanistan that the Taliban are exerting “heavy pressure” on nearby governments to speed up their return.

A copy of the former military colleague’s phone message to the pilots was received 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 staff to give them an opportunity to go to bed and start a new life,” said Hicks, who flew the 2010 A-10 Ground Plan to support Canadian troops in Kandahar.

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