Taliban assassinations of Afghan pilots mark another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting, a US government watchdog said in a report released on Thursday.
At least seven Afghan pilots have been assassinated off base in recent months.
Senior Afghan government officials told Reuters the murders are part of what the Taliban says is a campaign to see US-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated”.
The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (Sigar), in its quarterly report portrayed an Afghan Air Force (AAF) under growing strain from battling the Taliban amid the US withdrawal, and losing its ability to fight effectively.
The AAF’s fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, for example, had a 39% combat-readiness rate in June, about half the level of April and May. All Afghan airframes were flying at least 25% over their recommended scheduled-maintenance intervals, Sigar reported.
Along with the Afghan Air Force, Afghanistan’s Special Forces are a pillar of the nation’s strategy for preventing a Taliban takeover of cities.
But special operations forces are also being misused and under strain, Sigar reported.
It said most Afghan National Army corps refuse to execute missions without support from elite commandos. Citing Nato data, Sigar said that when Afghan commandos arrive, they are misused to perform tasks intended for conventional forces, including route clearance and checkpoint security.
Still, the report cautioned that it was difficult to evaluate what constituted military misuse of elite forces when the Afghan government “is fighting for its existence”.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that as threats against Afghans who helped the US have risen amid Taliban advances, the first group of 2,500 interpreters and their families evacuated from Afghanistan is expected to arrive in the US before the end of this week.
They will stay at an army base near Washington DC to complete the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process offered to those who worked with the US government or American-led military forces during the Afghanistan war.
Since 2008, approximately 70,000 Afghans who have received SIVs have been resettled in the country, according to US officials.
Last week, a senior state department official said that the total number of SIV applicants stands at just over 20,000.
Mike Jason, a former US Army battalion commander in Afghanistan, told the BBC that travelling across Taliban-controlled areas with the documentation needed for SIVs puts the translators in “mortal danger”.