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.
Hamidullah Azimi was killed 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 U.S.-made UH60 Black Hawk helicopters, and he 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 because of security threats, Eshaqzai said.
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 had killed at least seven Afghan pilots before Saturday’s attack.
The Taliban have confirmed existence of a program that would see U.S.-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
U.S. and Afghan officials believe the targeting of pilots by the Taliban is a deliberate effort to destroy Afghanistan’s corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots as fighting escalates across the country.
The Taliban, who have no air force, are looking to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives that have seen them swiftly seize territory since May.
Emboldened by Washington’s announcement to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of August, the Taliban have 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 control of other cities, the Afghan Air Force has played a crucial role in holding them back.
Azimi’s death came days after the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a report to Congress, said the Taliban assassinations of pilots detailed by Reuters were another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting.