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Why a US-trained Afghan pilot decided to go to Taliban

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalSep 01, 2022 | 16:57

Why a US-trained Afghan pilot decided to go to Taliban

Representative image of a pilot in a Black Hawk helicopter. Photo: Getty Images

When US-led troops were finally withdrawing from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021, the military pilots of the US Air Force were ordered to fly to Uzbekistan. All the pilots obeyed expect one, Mohammad Edris Momand. To him, betraying his country was not an option. Instead, he turned back on the people who trained him to become a pilot.

According to Momand, the helicopter belonged to Afghanistan and he went back to hand it over to the people (Taliaban) who he had been fighting against. 

Why Momand returned? On August 14, 2021, Momand reported for his duty at Kabul airbase. Situation was very tense and Taliban was about to capture capital city. There were also rumours of top political leaders planning to escape. 

  • Momand was ordered to fly out with his Black Hawk helicopter to Uzbekistan along with other pilots. But, this command rattled him. "My commander was asking me to betray my country. Why should I follow such an order," Momand told BBC.
  • He contacted his family and his father said that he woudn't forgive Momand if he left the country. He warned him saying: " The helicopter belongs to Afghanistan."
  • Momand's province, Kunar, falls in East Afghanistan. His father got in touch with local Taliban governor who assured him that Momand would be done no harm if came back with the helicopter.
  • Momand finally decided to return back to his home. But first he had to ditch his crew.
Black Hawk Helicopter. Photo: AFP

The escape: A Black Hawk helicopter usually has a four-member crew. Momand knew that he couldn't trust his fellow crew members with his plan. Not only would this jeopardize his life, they could have also destroyed his helicopter. So, he set up a plan.

  • First, Momand told the air force commander that his helicopter had some technical problem and he couldn't take it off. Hearing this, the other three crew members jumped to another helicopter which was flying back to Uzbekistan.
  • Once they left, Momand started a 30 minute flight to his hometown Kunar on the Black Hawk.
  • Since the Americans were controlling air traffic control, he told them that he was taking the helicopter to Uzbekistan. Once he left the airport, he switched off his radar mode and went straight to Kunar.

The landing: Once Momand landed in Kunar, his next task was to park the helicopter. 

  • After having assurances from Taliban officials, he took his helicopter to a place where helicopters had been refuelled in the past.
  • He said American officials contacted him thrice to even leave the helicopter and come back, but he had made up his mind not to go back
A Black Hawk helicopter in Afghanistan. Photo: AFP

Working with Taliban: Momand was trained by the US in 2009 to fight against Taliban. Today, he works under the Taliban and flies his highly-prized Black Hawk helicopter. He also feels that his colleagues who left the country betrayed their soil because the helicopters belonged to the country. 

"Governments always change. People like us belong to the nation and serve the nation. The military should not get involved in politics. The country has invested a lot in people like me," Momand told BBC. He said that he will continue to serve his nation until the last day of his life.

Last updated: September 01, 2022 | 16:57
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