An airplane carrying U.S.-trained Afghan pilots and other Afghan took off from an airport in Dushanbe yesterday, ending a nearly three-month detention ordeal that began when they escaped there in their aircraft during the Taliban takeover, Reuters says, citing Afghan sources.

Recall, 143 Afghan Air Force pilots, including two women, one of whom is pregnant, fled to Tajikistan in military planes when the Taliban seized power in Kabul in mid-August.  Most of the Afghan pilots and other personnel were held at a sanatorium on the outskirts of Dushanbe.

Those in that group who communicated with Reuters did so on cellphones kept hidden from guards and said the Tajik authorities took away their identity documents.

The pregnant pilot, who is 29, had voiced concerns to Reuters about risks to her and her unborn child at the remote sanatorium.  She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital before being transferred back to the sanatorium ahead of her departure.

"We are like prisoners here.  Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves," she said last month, according to Reuters.

Citing a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service reported yesterday that the group will be taken to a third country for processing before being granted immigration rights to the United States. 

The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan reportedly represented the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots who fled abroad and were still known to be in limbo.

In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, The New York Times says several thousand other Afghan Air Force pilots and crew members are in hiding in Afghanistan, feeling abandoned by the U.S. military, their longtime combat ally.  They reportedly say they and their families are at risk of being hunted down and killed by the Taliban.

Brigadier General David Hicks, a retired Air Force officer who is chief executive of Operation Sacred Promise, reportedly said the group, formed in August, had received desperate messages from stranded pilots asking whether the U.S. government had a plan to get them to safety.

“We found out that there was no plan by the U.S. to do anything to get these folks out,” said General Hicks, who once commanded the U.S.-led air force training mission in Afghanistan.

He said: “The U.S. has spent millions and millions on these highly educated and highly motivated individuals.  Based on what they did fighting the Taliban, we think they deserve priority.”