Special Report-Afghan pilots assassinated by Taliban as U.S. withdraws
By Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Hamid Shalizi 1 hr ago

By Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL, (Reuters) - Afghan Air Force Major Dastagir Zamaray had grown so fearful of Taliban assassinations of off-duty forces in Kabul that he decided to sell his home to move to a safer pocket of Afghanistan's sprawling capital.

Instead of being greeted by a prospective buyer at his realtor's office earlier this year, the 41-year-old pilot was confronted by a gunman who walked inside and, without a word, fatally shot the real estate agent in the mouth.

Zamaray reached for his sidearm but the gunman shot him in the head. The father of seven collapsed dead on his 14-year-old son, who had tagged along. The boy was spared, but barely speaks anymore, his family says.

Zamaray “only went there because he personally knew the realtor and thought it was safe," Samiullah Darman, his brother-in-law, told Reuters. "We didn’t know that he would never come back."

At least seven Afghan pilots, including Zamaray, have been assassinated off base in recent months, according to two senior Afghan government officials. This series of targeted killings, which haven't been previously reported, illustrate what U.S. and Afghan officials believe is a deliberate Taliban effort to destroy one of Afghanistan's most valuable military assets: its corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots.

: TAAC-Air work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with AAF to build sustainable force© Reuters/US AIR FORCE TAAC-Air work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with AAF to build sustainable force
In so doing, the Taliban -- who have no air force -- are looking to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives. The militants are quickly seizing territory once controlled by the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, raising fears they could eventually try to topple Kabul.

Afghanistan Air Force maintain MI-17s© Reuters/US AIR FORCE Afghanistan Air Force maintain MI-17s
Reuters confirmed the identities of two of the slain pilots through family members. It could not independently verify the names of the other five who were allegedly targeted.

In response to questions from Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group had killed Zamaray, and that it had started a program that will see Afghan Air Force pilots “targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people."

A U.N. report documented 229 civilian deaths caused by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first three months of 2021, and 41 civilian deaths caused by the Afghan Air Force over the same period.

Afghanistan's government has not publicly disclosed the number of pilots assassinated in targeted killings. The nation's Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. The Pentagon said it was aware of the deaths of several Afghan pilots in killings claimed by the Taliban, but declined comment on U.S. intelligence and investigations.

TAAC-air advisers mentor Afghan air force© Reuters/US AIR FORCE TAAC-air advisers mentor Afghan air force
Afghan military pilots are particularly attractive assassination targets, current and former U.S. and Afghan officials say. They can strike Taliban forces massing for major attacks, shuttle commandos to missions and provide life-saving air cover for Afghan ground troops. Pilots take years to train and are hard to replace, representing an outsized blow to the country's defenses with every loss.

Shoot-downs and accidents are ever-present risks. Yet these pilots often are most vulnerable in the streets of their own neighborhoods, where attackers can come from anywhere, said retired U.S. Brigadier General David Hicks, who commanded the training effort for the Afghan Air Force from 2016 to 2017.

"Their lives were at much greater risk during that time (off base) than they were while they were flying combat missions," Hicks said.

Although Taliban assassinations of pilots have happened in years past, the recent killings take on greater significance as the Afghan Air Force is tested like never before.

Just last week, U.S. forces left America’s main military bastion in Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, as they complete their withdrawal from the country 20 years after ousting the Taliban following the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Pilots are on top of the Taliban's hit list," the senior Afghan government official said.

That Afghan official and two others, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they're working to protect pilots and their families, moving some to on-base housing and relocating others to safer civilian neighborhoods.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson strongly condemned “all targeted assassinations in Afghanistan” and stressed U.S. commitments to continue providing security assistance to the Afghan military.

The Afghan Air Force is heavily dependent on U.S. training, equipment and maintenance as well as logistics to ensure a reliable pipeline of munitions and spare parts. The Pentagon has yet to fully detail how it will keep Afghan aviators flying after the U.S.-led mission formally ends in coming weeks, as ordered by President Joe Biden.

The Pentagon told Reuters it would seek to provide Afghanistan with extra aircraft to ease the strain of combat losses and maintenance downtime.

David Petraeus, a former CIA director and former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, warned that failure of the United States to provide enough support for the Afghan military could be disastrous.

"We are potentially consigning Afghanistan and the Afghan people to a civil war," Petraeus said in an interview.

Washington is moving to evacuate interpreters who worked for the U.S. military, but it’s unclear if the Biden administration would risk doing the same for Afghan forces, like pilots. Some officials believe offering an exit strategy for elite Afghan troops could accelerate a feared collapse following the U.S. withdrawal.

U.S. intelligence assessments have warned that the Afghan government could fall in as little as six months, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

"No one wants to have the (Afghan forces) preemptively throw in the towel," another U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Two Afghan Air Force pilots were killed on June 7 while trying to evacuate troops wounded during a surge of fighting against the Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting down their Russian-made, U.S.-financed Mi-17 helicopter. Local media identified the deceased pilots as Milad Massoud and Abdul Alim Shahrayari. The Afghan Defense Ministry said in a statement that the aircraft crashed, but it did not say why, nor would it identify the pilots. An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the chopper was shot down.

Both the crew and the aircraft were precious.

The Afghan fleet contained just 13 Mi-17 helicopters and 65 qualified aircrews of pilots and co-pilots to fly them, according to U.S. military data from April 2021 and November 2020, respectively.

Those data show the entire Afghan Air Force comprises 339 qualified aircrews and 160 aircraft -- less than a quarter of the fleet size of U.S. commercial carrier Southwest Airlines. The "usable" fleet is even smaller - around 140 aircraft - after accounting for aircraft undergoing maintenance, according to the same April data.
This idiot poor excuse for a man, that was fraudulently placed in office is helping weaken this nation. His --handlers- are running the highest office in this land. And they are --NOT-- working for the security and welfare of this nation.
In fact-- they are deliberately working -Against- that goal.. A fact..-Tyr