Two Afghan Air Force pilots apparently fearful of Taliban reprisals flew their A29 Super Tucano strike plane into neighbouring Uzbekistan’s air space late Sunday night before bailing out by parachute and being rescued by local police.
The Uzbek newspaper Gazeta, citing police sources, said the plane with Afghan Air Force markings crashed in the Sherabad district of Surkhandarya region, and two pilots that had parachuted to safety had been rescued with minor injuries. A statement from the Uzbek foreign ministry on Monday claimed the aircraft had been shot down entering its airspace.
Photos of the rescue and the pilots immediately circulated on Uzbek telegram social media groups, seen by VICE World News, with official Uzbek sources confirming the scene to Gazeta.
“A Gazeta.uz source in Surkhandarya confirmed that two Afghan servicemen had been transferred to the Termez branch of the Republican Research Center for Emergency Medicine,” reported the paper.
Other air force planes have set out from northern Afghan air bases as the sites fell to the Taliban, in the hopes that some of Afghanistan’s small fleet of turboprop attack aircraft can be kept out of Taliban hands.
But it would be little surprise for A29 pilots – the plane’s model can be clearly identified from pictures of the wreckage posted on social media – to flee Taliban advances. Air force pilots have been long hunted for assassination by the Taliban long before this weekend’s abrupt takeover because of the massive casualties the planes were able to cause against the Taliban advance, at least initially.
Afghanistan’s air force quickly deteriorated in capability after last month’s departure of US contractors and advisers, who had managed most of the maintenance on planes and helicopters, with only a handful of planes still flying in Kandahar and Mazar Sharif as they fell to the Taliban this weekend.