EXCLUSIVE Stranded in Tajik sanatorium, pregnant Afghan pilot fears for unborn baby

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A pregnant US-trained Afghan pilot who is being held in a sanatorium and has requested that her face and name be hidden for security reasons, poses for a photo in Tajikistan on October 5, 2021. Photo taken on October 5, 2021 2021. Document via REUTERS

WASHINGTON, Oct.6 (Reuters) – She didn’t forget the prenatal vitamins – it was one of the few things this US-trained Afghan pilot could pick up from his Kabul airport office before leaving the country aboard an Air Force plane during the Taliban. to resume.

But after fleeing for her life and that of her unborn child in August, the 29-year-old says she can’t even get an ultrasound or go to the hospital.

Instead, she fears her son will soon be born into a strange sort of captivity in the Tajikistan countryside, alongside more than 140 other Afghan servicemen, almost all men, who have crossed the northern border together. Afghanistan and are now being held in a sanatorium. in the mountains.

“I’m really, really worried about my baby,” the Air Force pilot, whose situation was first reported by Reuters in September, said in her first comments to a reporter.

She was talking on a phone hidden from the guards after the Tajik authorities took ID documents and phones from Afghans. She asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her family in Afghanistan.

Despite her due date scheduled for mid-November, Tajik authorities have rejected her request for reconciliation with a hospital an hour or more away, she said.

“They say, ‘No. When your time to give birth comes, we’ll take you to the hospital and bring you back here,'” she said.

His group has been held in Tajikistan for nearly two months, hoping the United States will eventually fly them out of the country to gain refugee status in America. But for reasons that are not clear, this has yet to happen.

They say the Tajik authorities tell them to wait.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a congressional hearing last week that he was concerned about pilots in Tajikistan and would work with the State Department to “see if we can get things done. “.

Republican Congressman Austin Scott, who raised the pregnant pilot’s case at the hearing, expressed frustration with the State Department’s handling of her case.

He said the department told his office that the Tajik government was “very aware of the condition of the pregnant pilot” and that anyone in need of emergency medical services would be taken to a local medical facility.

“Other than that, they weren’t of any help with any of this,” Scott told Reuters.

The State Department said it was “coordinating with the government of Tajikistan” on the matter, but declined to explain the delay or the reason the pilots are being detained. The US Embassy in Dushanbe said in a statement that it had visited the group and, at the time, “the pilots said they were treated well and the conditions were humane.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US Defense and State Departments are working closely “as we research suitable options for these pilots.”

“We believe we owe it to these brave individuals and their families to do what we can to help them relocate,” Kirby told Reuters.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was complicated to get Afghans access to the sanatorium.

Tajikistan’s health ministry declined to answer specific questions from Reuters about the situation or the delay, but said the sanatorium was staffed with medical staff.

BIGGEST TARGETS

US-trained English-speaking Afghan pilots were among the Taliban’s biggest targets during the war.

Afghan Air Force personnel in Tajikistan are the last large group of such overseas personnel still suspected of being in limbo after dozens of forward planes crossed the Afghan border into that country and to Uzbekistan in the last moments of the war.

Earlier in September, a deal brokered by the United States allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to leave Uzbekistan.

Fortunately, the pregnant Afghan pilot’s husband – who worked for the US-backed government in Kabul – evacuated with her. But they feel trapped.

She said she was concerned that the medical staff at the sanatorium, located outside Dushanbe, would not be qualified to deal with the pregnancies.

“We are like prisoners here. Not even as refugees, not even as immigrants. We have no legal documents or means to buy anything for ourselves,” she said.

Reuters has learned that U.S. officials have started collecting biometric information to confirm the identity of group members, a sign that help may be on the way. A similar effort in Uzbekistan preceded the transfer of these pilots.

But relatives of the pilots say the United States has still not collected biometric data from around a third of the group.

The pregnant pilot seemed relieved to announce that an international organization had dropped off winter clothes for Afghans at the sanatorium this week, along with many supplies for her baby, including warm clothes.

But it also meant that she was preparing for the idea of ​​a longer stay in Tajikistan.

“They provide clothes and lots of stuff, so that means we’re going to stay here,” she said, adding dejectedly, “I don’t know about the future.”

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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