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Special Report-Afghan pilots assassinated by Taliban as U.S. withdraws

KABUL, (Reuters) – Afghan Air Force Major Dastagir Zamaray had grown so fearful of Taliban assassinations of off-duty forces in Kabul that he decided to sell his home to move to a safer pocket of Afghanistan’s sprawling capital.

Instead of being greeted by a prospective buyer at his realtor’s office earlier this year, the 41-year-old pilot was confronted by a gunman who walked inside and, without a word, fatally shot the real estate agent in the mouth.a close up of a car: Afghan A-29 pilot gets ready for the fight © Reuters/US AIR FORCE Afghan A-29 pilot gets ready for the fight

Zamaray reached for his sidearm but the gunman shot him in the head. The father of seven collapsed dead on his 14-year-old son, who had tagged along. The boy was spared, but barely speaks anymore, his family says.a man sitting on a bus: Afghanistan UH-60 Pilots train © Reuters/US AIR FORCE Afghanistan UH-60 Pilots train

Zamaray “only went there because he personally knew the realtor and thought it was safe,” Samiullah Darman, his brother-in-law, told Reuters. “We didn’t know that he would never come back.”

At least seven Afghan pilots, including Zamaray, have been assassinated off base in recent months, according to two senior Afghan government officials. This series of targeted killings, which haven’t been previously reported, illustrate what U.S. and Afghan officials believe is a deliberate Taliban effort to destroy one of Afghanistan’s most valuable military assets: its corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots.a man wearing a hat: TAAC-Air work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with AAF to build sustainable force © Reuters/US AIR FORCE TAAC-Air work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with AAF to build sustainable force

In so doing, the Taliban — who have no air force — are looking to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives. The militants are quickly seizing territory once controlled by the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, raising fears they could eventually try to topple Kabul.

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