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‘Please Don’t Leave Us Behind. We Will Be Great Americans.’

An interview with a U.S.-trained Afghan Air Force pilot, now hiding from the Taliban.
August 16, 2021
‘Please Don’t Leave Us Behind. We Will Be Great Americans.’
Afghan Air Force pilots land their UH-60 Blackhawks on a narrow landing strip during a resupply mission to an outpost in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Afghan Air Force, which the U.S. and its partners has nurtured to the tune of $8.5 billion since 2010, is now the governmentÕs spearhead in its fight against the Taliban. Since May 1, the original deadline for the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban have overpowered government troops to take at least 23 districts to date, according to local media outlets. That has further denied Afghan security forces the use of roads, meaning all logistical support to the thousands of outposts and checkpoints Ñ including re-supplies of ammunition and food, medical evacuations or personnel rotation Ñ must be done by air. (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)

As the world watched the United States pull out from Afghanistan and Taliban forces take over the country, we spoke by text message with an Afghan Air Force pilot, now in hiding along with several other pilots and hoping to be evacuated.

Who are you? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born in Kunar, Afghanistan and joined the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in 2005. I’m married with seven beautiful children. Unfortunately, we are currently separated, because the Taliban took Kabul.

I’m at an undisclosed location with other Afghan Air Force (AAF) pilots, hiding from the Taliban. They are hunting us.

Actually, they’ve been hunting us for years, but this really increased over the last year. The AAF, along with the Afghan National Army Special Operations Corps (ANASOC), were the best fighters for the Afghan government. The AAF was very good. Because we were very good, the Taliban hunted us relentlessly over the last year. I lost many friends to Taliban assassins.

They’ve already executed a few pilots over the weekend.

What was your career with the Afghan Air Force like?

I was very proud to be an AAF pilot. I was a commander. I spent years in the United States, learning to speak English and going through undergraduate pilot training. I visited San Antonio, Fort Rucker, and a lot of other places, too. I like Texas the best. I thought the people were very friendly.

I started at the Defense Language Institute, then moved onto undergraduate pilot training, and then eventually more advanced pilot training for my aircraft. I have so many fond memories of my time in the United States. However, I loved working with my American Air Force advisors the most. They were incredible men and women. When they left [Afghanistan] in May, I was very scared that this day would come.

However, we fought for a long time, and it was the loss of the contractors that really hurt us. Although we have a lot of really good pilots, it takes a very long time to train maintainers. Although we had made great strides, especially with the Mi-17s, we weren’t ready to do it alone without the contractors. A lot of the American-made aircraft are very sophisticated and they take years of training to maintain them adequately.

What’s your current situation?

Like I said, I’m currently in hiding. We are hoping to get out. If we are not rescued, then the Taliban will execute us.

The AAF and the Afghan Special Operations Forces are not the same as regular rank-and-file soldiers. We are very well known. We were celebrated by the Afghan people, so everyone knows us. It’s a very big deal to be an Afghan pilot or a commando.

Anyway, we are hoping that the Americans will take us, and our families, to safety. We spent decades fighting alongside American forces.

Anything you want the American public to know?

Many Afghan soldiers died bravely. I’ve been fighting for over fifteen years. We did not all just give up and quit. Yes, some did. Once the Americans left, we weren’t ready to start doing all the logistics. The logistics, the maintenance, and corruption really hurt us.

I know people in the U.S. are upset that we didn’t fight longer. But we’ve been fighting for decades—and some of us, even longer. When the U.S. left, it really affected morale, especially how quickly it happened. We woke up one day, then Bagram was gone. Everyone got scared. It got out of control.

I’m mad at many of the senior leaders who lined their pockets and simply vanished from the country. However, thousands of Afghan officers were not responsible for that. We were simply doing the best we could.

There are a lot of Afghans who trusted the United States. Not just translators. Not just civil society activists, but also Afghan soldiers. We loved fighting alongside Americans.

Please don’t leave us behind. Please. We will be great Americans.