US May Let Tajikistan Hold on to Fleeing Afghan Aircraft

Officials, including Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon and Commander of US Central Command General Michael Kurilla, hold talks in Dushanbe, Tajikistan June 15, 2022. Picture taken June 15, 2022. Tajikistan's Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - The United States may let Tajikistan hold on to Afghan military aircraft donated by the US that sought shelter in the Central Asian country following the US withdrawal from Kabul last August, a US military commander said.


US-trained Afghan pilots flew dozens of military planes and helicopters to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as they fled the Islamist Taliban who took over the country as foreign forces withdrew.


The Taliban have demanded that the two countries return the aircraft.


US Central Command commander Gen. Michael Kurilla visited Tajikistan over the weekend.


"We are grateful to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Tajikistan for continuing to secure the aircraft that the Afghan Air Force flew into the country last August," he said in comments relayed by the US embassy.


"The United States is working with the Tajik government to determine the best way to effectively use and maintain the aircraft," Kurilla said.


He said the aircraft would definitely not be returned to Afghanistan "because they do not belong to the Taliban".


"Our hope is to be able to hand over some or all of the aircraft to the Tajik government. I do not have a timeline on when this will occur, but we are working hard to make this happen."


The Taliban seized power as the United States and its allies withdrew troops after a 20-year war launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as US forces hunted al Qaeda leaders and sought to punish their Taliban hosts.


Panicked Afghans clamoured to board flights out of Kabul, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Sunni Muslim group implemented when it held power from 1996 to 2001.