Story by Mikaley Kline.
“The Taliban is everywhere. Please don’t come home since it is too dangerous for you,” these were the words Abdul* heard from his brother’s wife as he was at the airport ready to leave Afghanistan.
August 15th, 2021 started out as a normal day for Abdul, but when the Taliban took control of Kabul, Abdul and others knew they had to leave.
“We knew that something was going to happen,” he said. “The situation had been abnormal for the last week. Because of this, I was always carrying my passport, some money and all my certificates and important documents.”
He knew something was going to happen because the provinces were falling very quickly.
“The higher up levels were not ordering us to fight,” he said. “The last couple of days we didn’t receive orders to defend Kabul or to transfer commandos to help protect the people of Kabul, everyone was confused. What should we do?”
Abdul served at a Special Mission Wing in the Afghanistan air force as a helicopter pilot from 2020 to 2021.
“I received a WhatsApp message saying that all pilots must be on base and I got there on Saturday,” he said. “We divided into small groups and we really had to trust each other. In that last day we really lost our trust in people. It was a mix of emotional feelings and that trust did not exist.”
As Abdul was leaving Afghanistan he called his brother and told him that he needed to destroy anything that connected him to military service.
“I can’t go back home so I need you to hide my car since it has an identification card for entering the base,” he said. “My jackets, my boots, and helmets. Just burn it all. We are leaving Afghanistan.”
Getting the helicopters out of Afghanistan was a top priority for the pilots.
“Getting the helicopters out of the country was important to us because if we gave them to the Taliban they will use them against the innocent people,” he said. “We also knew that they would use us against our own people. This was the main reason we transferred the helicopters to Uzbekistan.”
After leaving Uzbekistan in mid-September, he went to the United Arab Emirates and in late October he came to Liberty Village at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Becoming a pilot was something Abdul had dreamed of ever since he was a young child.
“When I was a child I was thinking about flying and decided that one day I must fly,” he said.
After passing numerous tests and medical exams, Abdul successfully joined the air force and spent two years studying at the air force academy and learning English.
In 2018 he went to the Czech Republic to begin pilot training, and then went to Slovakia for UH-60 Black Hawk training.
Abdul returned to Kabul upon completion of Black Hawk training in June 2020.
“I came back and started flying in the Afghan air force for three or four months before I joined the special mission wing 777,” he said. “It was specialized unit doing missions with a special operations advisory team. My job was transporting the commandos. They would have a special mission and we would transport them to the point, pick them up and bring them back to Kabul.”
While Abdul never got to fly with American pilots he insisted that the advice they gave him was immensely helpful.
“I didn’t fly in a cockpit with American pilots, but they were giving us help and advice on how to do things,” he said. “They decided to stay in the background and the Afghan air force was on the front line doing the operation. The U.S. people were helping us in an advisory capacity.”
Abdul added that the U.S. assisted with Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
“We were doing the mission together and we were on the ground picking up a target, but we had the U.S. support with us always,” he said.
Even though Abdul always wanted to fly, he knew that becoming a pilot in the Afghanistan would put him at risk for being targeted by the Taliban.
“Pilots were a target and during the years we lost many pilots in Afghanistan,” he said. “Nobody knew that I was a pilot in the air force. It was a secret for me.”
According to Abdul, when people were identified as pilots through reports the Taliban would find out where they live. Then two or three people on a motorcycle would come with pistols and kill them.
“One of my classmates in Bagrami district last year lost their life like this,” he said. “Three or four guys came with a pistol and finished him.”
When Abdul was in the UAE, the Taliban went to his home in search of him. When they checked his house and didn’t find him they took his brother to get information about him.
“They asked, ‘Where is he? He is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan,’” he said. “They lashed my brother and he spent more than a week in the hospital. All the people in the village came together and told the Taliban that Abdul was no longer in Afghanistan.”
Despite this Abdul knew that joining the air force was the right thing to do.
“I had an argument with my heart and myself to serve the country and to help build the country,” he said. “It was our responsibility.”
Abdul has since departed JBMDL and resettled in the United States. When asked what’s next for him, Abdul promptly responded that he wanted to fly again.
“My first priority is getting back up in the sky,” he said. “America is the land of opportunities and there are many facilities here. When you fly, the sky is your home.”
Note: *Name has been changed to protect the safety of the individual. This story is part of a two-part article on Abdul.
Story: This story by Staff Sgt. Mikaley Kline entitled “Afghan pilot details escape from Afghanistan, hopes for new life” was originally published on February 8, 2022 by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DVIDS publishes content in the public domain.