The Taliban Defence Ministry in Kabul announced on Saturday that five Afghan Air Force (AAF) pilots who fled the country when the Taliban seized power in August have returned to Afghanistan after consultations with the Islamist government.
The ministry claimed in a statement that the pilots fled the country following the Taliban’s victory in August, but have now returned with the encouragement of the authorities to serve in the country’s air force again.
A photo shared by the ministry showed the returnees being welcomed by Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob Mujahid.
The faces of the pilots were blurred out in the photograph and no further information was available.
When the previous Afghan government fell, dozens of U.S.-trained Afghan pilots used AAF aircraft to flee to neighbouring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, fearing Taliban reprisals if they stayed.
In November, it was reported that more than 140 stranded Afghan pilots and crew members were flown from Tajikistan to the United Arab Emirates with the help of the American authorities.
Last month, Mullah Yaqoob called on Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to return military aircraft transferred to their countries and invited all pilots who previously served in the Afghan army to return and serve in the new Taliban government.
The Taliban has seized billions of dollars worth of weapons, equipment, and aircraft abandoned by the fleeing Afghan army, but have a lack of trained pilots to fly them.
Over the past 20 years, the AAF established itself as a leading anti-Taliban force.
However, Taliban hardliners now appear keen to use AAF aircraft and equipment in the event of a military threat to its rule.
According to a recent report by the United Nations, more than 100 people who served in the armed forces of the previous Afghan government have been killed since the Taliban returned to power. (dpa/NAN).