According to sources, an Afghan Air Force pilot was killed by a bomb in Kabul on Saturday, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
According to officials, the pilot, Hamidullah Azimi, died when a sticky device affixed to his car detonated, injuring five civilians.
Azimi had been trained to operate US-made UH60 Black Hawk helicopters and had been with the Afghan Air Force for nearly four years, according to the force’s commander, Abdul Fatah Eshaqzai.
He went to Kabul with his family a year ago owing to security concerns, according to Eshaqzai.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid said in a statement that the Taliban carried out the attack.
Reuters was first to detail a Taliban campaign to assassinate pilots off-base that Afghan officials say claimed the lives of at least seven Afghan pilots before Saturday’s killing.
The Taliban has confirmed a program that would see U.S.-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
U.S. and Afghan officials believe it is a deliberate effort to destroy Afghanistan’s corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots as fighting escalates across the country.
The Taliban – who have no air force – want to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives that have seen them swiftly seize territory since May.
Emboldened by Washington’s announcement that it was ending its military mission by the end of August, the Taliban has launched a military blitz across the country which has gained momentum in recent days.
On Friday the insurgents captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
As the Taliban seeks to take over neighbouring cities, the Afghan Air Force has played a critical role in keeping them at bay.
Azimi’s murder happened only days after the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) told Congress in a report that the targeting of pilots described by Reuters was another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force, which is reeling from an increase in warfare. more info
SIGAR characterised an air force that was increasingly stressed and less prepared to battle in its quarterly report covering the three-month period ending in June.
In June, its fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had a readiness rate of 39 percent, roughly half of what it had in April and May.
“All aircraft platforms are overtaxed due to increased requests for close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions and aerial resupply now that the (Afghan military) largely lacks U.S. air support,” the report said.