An Afghan Air Force pilot was killed by a bomb in a Kabul district on Saturday, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
The pilot killed on Saturday, Hamidullah Azimi, was travelling when a sticky bomb attached to his vehicle went off, officials said, adding that five civilians were injured in the explosion.
Azimi was trained in flying US-made UH60 Black Hawk helicopters, and had been working with the Afghan Air Force for almost four years, Afghan Air Force Commander Abdul Fatah Eshaqzai told Reuters.
He had moved to Kabul with his family one year ago due to security threats, Eshaqzai added.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid said in a statement that the Taliban had carried out the attack.
Reuters was first to detail a Taliban campaign to assassinate pilots off-base that Afghan officials say claimed the lives of at least seven Afghan pilots before Saturday’s killing.
The Taliban has confirmed a program that would see US-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
US and Afghan officials believe the targeting of pilots by the Taliban is a deliberate effort to destroy Afghanistan’s corps of US- and NATO-trained military pilots – as fighting escalates across the country.
Emboldened by Washington’s announcement to withdraw all US troops by the end of August, the Taliban has launched a bloody military blitz across the country which has gained momentum in recent days.
On Friday insurgents captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
As the insurgents look to take other cities, the Afghan Air Force has played a crucial role in holding them back.
Azimi’s death came just days after the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a report to Congress, said the Taliban assassinations of pilots detailed by Reuters was another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting.