DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — The U.S.-supplied Afghan air force took to the skies for a final flight overnight Sunday to Monday — not to attack the Taliban, as it had so many times before, but to save some of its planes and pilots from capture as the insurgents took control of the country.
At least six military aircraft departed Afghanistan in a flight for safety in former Soviet states to the north. Five landed in Tajikistan, Tajik authorities said. One plane was shot down in Uzbekistan, but its two pilots reportedly parachuted and survived.
The departure of some of the Afghan air force’s planes, once the jewels of the U.S. aid program to the Afghan military, kept them and their airmen out of Taliban hands.
It also added to the chaos in the skies in and around Afghanistan. Dozens of passenger planes that have taken off from Hamid Karzai International Airport also flew to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, neighboring countries with strong cultural ties to Afghanistan. A total of 46 airliners had departed by Monday morning, carrying asylum-seekers, many of whom were employees of the airport, Tolo News, an Afghan news agency, reported.
A spokesman for the Uzbek military confirmed it had shot down an airplane that traveled without permission into the country’s airspace. It did not specify the type of plane, but pictures of the wreckage suggested it was a Super Tucano, a turboprop light attack aircraft made by the Brazilian company Embraer and provided by the United States to Afghanistan, according to Paul Hayes, director of Ascend, a U.K.-based aviation safety consultancy.
Uzbek media posted videos showing a pilot in a green flight suit, lying on the ground and receiving medical care.
In Tajikistan, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said three Afghan military airplanes and two military helicopters carrying 143 soldiers and airmen were allowed to land after transmitting distress signals.
“Tajikistan received an SOS signal, and after this in accordance with international obligations the country decided to allow landings,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, Interfax reported.
It was unclear what will happen to the aircraft now in Tajikistan. Afghan pilots had been targets of particular hatred by the Taliban and risked assassination.
The shoot-down in Uzbekistan and the Tajik authorities’ emphasis on their neutrality in allowing landings reflected the hard response that Central Asian nations, worried about antagonizing the Taliban, have had to fleeing Afghan soldiers.
Uzbekistan last week allowed 84 soldiers to cross a bridge to safety but left many more behind. Tajikistan in June and July allowed fleeing soldiers to enter the country but deported nearly all of them back to Afghanistan.
An Uzbek think tank close to the government has argued that what matters in Afghanistan is stability and economic development, whoever is charge.
“They say, ‘we are ready to accept any centralized force that can help Afghanistan,’” Daniel Kiselyov, the editor of Fergana, a Russian-language news site focused on Central Asia, said in a telephone interview. “If the Taliban provides that, they are willing to work with the group,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.