The Taliban's ambitious plan to rebuild the Afghan air force has suffered a major setback after the United States made it clear that Afghan pilots' military planes and helicopters had left the country after the Pashtun-dominated group (Taliban) captured Kabul.
"The planes will certainly not return to Afghanistan because they do not belong to the Taliban," US Central Command Commander General Michael Eric Kurilla said during a visit to Tajikistan on Monday. The top US military commander overseeing Central Asia said talks were being held with the Tajikistan government to determine the best way to effectively use and maintain these aircraft.
If Tajikistan integrates these aircraft into its arsenal, it is likely that US personnel, including maintenance workers, will be stationed in the Central Asian state. This would be a move that could help Washington gain a foothold in the region. US presence and influence suffered a major setback in August 2021, when the Taliban captured Kabul, forcing US forces to exit the country.
There have been reports that since troops left Afghanistan last August, the US has been desperate to establish a new base in Tajikistan to enhance its ability to remotely track and attack emerging terrorist threats.
Days before the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, more than 100 US-trained Afghan Air Force pilots flew with their families from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, carrying more than 60 aircraft, including
Since then, the Taliban has been warning Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to immediately return Afghan planes and helicopters. “We may be relatively weak compared to our neighbors but we are not cowards and will take into account every spare part of our planes and helicopters.
"I ask them respectfully to return our planes and helicopters and not to question our patience and not to force us to take all possible retaliatory measures," Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Yacoub warned. But Tajikistan and Uzbekistan refused to return these planes because they were "donated" by the US to the previous Afghan government.