Some Afghan pilots who have been held in Uzbekistan for about a month began leaving Sunday for the United Arab Emirate, Reuters reported.
A U.S.-trained Afghan pilot told Reuters that one group would depart Uzbekistan on Sunday for the UAE under a U.S.-brokered deal, despite Taliban demands that they return to Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that pilots would go to the U.S. military base in Doha, Qatar, before being relocated to third countries.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to the 46 aircraft in Uzbekistan, which included A-29 light attack planes and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, according to Reuters.
Hours before the fall of Kabul on August 15, a total of 585 Afghan military personnel and their families flew to Uzbekistan aboard 22 military aircraft and 24 helicopters. They were intercepted by Uzbek military aircraft and forced to land at an international airport in Termez, just across the border from Afghanistan.
The Taliban pressured the Uzbek government to hand over the aircraft and the pilots, current and former U.S. officials told Reuters. The Taliban seized aircraft including helicopters and drones late last month and have demanded that any vehicles taken before they declared their takeover of Kabul be returned.
Uzbekistan, which supported the Taliban before last month’s takeover, had urged the United States to take action because they feared increased tensions with their neighbors around the pilots.
Neither the U.S. State Department, the United Nations nor the Taliban have publicly commented on Sunday’s reported development.
Pilots at the Uzbek camp near the city of Termez described tense situations, restrictions on movement and a lack of medicine and food, prompting outrage from international rights groups.
Rights Groups Fear for Safety of Defecting Afghan Pilots
Hundreds who flew to Uzbekistan as Kabul fell are waiting to learn if they will be handed back to the Taliban
About a week ago, according to Reuters, U.S. officials arrived in the camp to screen the Afghans using biometrics since many fled with just what they wore.
John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, praised the evacuation, telling Reuters, “I hope we have plans under way to make sure the aircraft they got out get back to the United States and certainly do not return to the Taliban.”