The Taliban have been rolling through Afghanistan on the ground as US forces leave, seizing territory sometimes without resistance. But Afghanistan's government still has a tactical advantage, something it has that the Taliban don't: an air force. In an apparent campaign to eliminate that advantage, Taliban forces have been tracking down off-duty Afghan military pilots and assassinating them, Reuters reports. At least seven have been killed recently while off base. One was an air force major looking to move his family to a safer part of Kabul because of the killings. While at his real estate agent's office, Dastagir Zamaray was shot to death by a man who walked in, killing the agent first. His 14-year-old son, one of seven children, was not killed, but the family said he's barely spoken since the attack.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed to Reuters the effort to ensure the pilots are "targeted and eliminated because all of them do bombardment against their people." He also confirmed that Zamaray was slain in that effort. US and Afghan officials say the pilots are especially important in fighting the Taliban because they can strike forces gathering for large attacks, fly commandos to missions, and provide critical air cover for ground troops. Many have been trained by the US and NATO and are difficult to replace. US Brigadier Gen. David Hicks, who ran pilot training in Afghanistan, said the pilots were at greater risk of harm when they went home to their neighborhoods "than they were while they were flying combat missions." Afghan soldiers now guard Bagram air base after US forces left it. Afghanistan also would have to find a way to keep its air force going in the absence of US and other foreign contractors, per the New York Times. The contractors have handled aircraft repairs, maintenance, fueling, and other necessary jobs. (Read more Afghanistan war stories.)