Fleeing Afghan aircraft may be left in Tajikistan

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Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), General Michael Kurilla, visited Dushanbe, June 15-16 to discuss bilateral security cooperation between the United States and Tajikistan. During his visit, he met with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and high-ranking military officials of Tajikistan to discuss joint efforts to strengthen border security, address regional threats, and provide support for the Tajik armed forces.

What did journalists ask the CENTCOM commander?

Asked about the purpose of the visit for him,, Gen, Kurilla said the purpose of the visit was to establish relations.

“I will return here throughout my service, so I believe that this first visit was part of what I refer to as my “listening tour.” I was eager to hear from the leadership of the country's armed forces about the issues of security problems,” he said.

“In CENTCM, we admire Tajikistan’s leadership role in Central Asian security. Our enduring relationship with Tajikistan is historically really strong. Two weeks from now marks a golden anniversary: the July 1, 1992 signing of the first trade agreement between our two countries,” Gen. Kurilla stated.

“Over the last 30 years, we have developed a common commitment to peace, prosperity and security in Tajikistan and Central Asia. Over this period, we have provided over US$330 million in security sector assistance to Tajikistan.” the U.S. military commander said, noting that he “intends to build on this strong history of our relations.”

General Kurilla also noted that he was concerned over increasing threat of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Afghanistan and restoration of al-Qaeda activities in the region.

“These are problems that we must solve. And we must say frankly that Al-Qaeda is reestablishing its position in Afghanistan. We can't turn a blind eye to this. This is a problem the international community needs to pay attention to,” noted he. “IS terror group also remains a threat. Although the group has been weakened in Syria and Iraq, today it is much stronger in Afghanistan than it was 9 months ago.”

Asked about the fate of military aircraft, which were donated by the United States to the former government of Afghanistan and sought shelter in Tajikistan, General Kurilla said they 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.

"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," General Kurilla added.

The US military commander also further noted that protection of human rights is essential to achieving the goals of prosperity.

Recall, Afghan media reports noted last year that before the fall of the former government, Afghanistan had over 164 active military aircraft and now only 81 are in the country. The rest were reportedly taken out of Afghanistan and brought to different countries.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported on August 26, 2021 that over 45 Afghan Air Force aircraft were flown out of the country in mid-August, likely to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Taliban. Satellite imagery of Termez International Airport in Uzbekistan captured on August 16 reportedly revealed several dozen Afghan military assets situated on the airport’s tarmac. The platforms visible in the imagery reportedly included C-208 utility aircraft, A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, and Mi-17, Mi-25, and UH-60 helicopters.

CSIS noted that the aircraft and helicopters were no longer visible in imagery of the airport acquired on August 21, indicating that their stop in Termez, Uzbekistan, was temporary and they were relocated. Imagery acquired on September 1 of Bohktar International Airport in Tajikistan reportedly revealed that 16 of the utility/transport attack aircraft previously seen at Termez International Airport were transferred here.

It is to be noted that dispute over the helicopters flown out of Afghanistan between the Taliban and the governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan has begun a few days after the Taliban came to power in Kabul.

Source: Asia-Plus