US unlikely to return Afghan helicopters parked in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan: Kirby

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on Tuesday the US government was still dealing with the issue of Afghan helicopters parked in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan but indicated the aircraft would not be returned to Afghanistan.

Addressing a press conference, Kirby said: “We’re still working out the — the disposition of — of those helicopters.

“I think it’s safe to assume that they will not be sent into Afghanistan to be at — to be used by the Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan).

“But as to what they end up doing and where they end up going and who ends up with them, we are still working our way through that decision-making process,” he said.

This comes after Afghanistan’s ruling Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) government last week asked Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to return Afghan Air Force planes and helicopters that were flown to neighboring countries by fleeing pilots in August last year.

IEA Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob said last week his government would never agree to the aircraft being seized or used by either of the two countries.

“I respectfully call on [Uzbekistan and Tajikistan] not to test our patience and not to force us to take all possible retaliatory steps [to retake the aircraft],” Yaqoob said without elaborating further.

US-trained Afghan air force pilots flew themselves and their families to Uzbekistan aboard more than 40 aircraft, including A-29 light attack planes and Black Hawk helicopters, at the time of the IEA takeover of the country on August 15.

Uzbek authorities reported in early September they had deported hundreds of Afghan pilots and their families for illegally flying into the county aboard military aircraft.

The Afghan citizens were reportedly transferred to a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates under an arrangement Washington negotiated with Uzbekistan to move more than 450 Afghans.

But the fate of the aircraft remains unclear. Before the fall of the government in August, Afghanistan had more than 164 active aircraft, a large number of which were flown out of the country. Only 81 were left behind, according to Afghan media reports.