At its peak around 2012, Bagram Airfield saw more than 100,000 US troops pass through its sprawling compound barely an hour’s drive north of the Afghan capital Kabul. (AFP)
- Airfield handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety
- The airfield served as the hub of America’s operations against Taliban
SAYED SALAHUDDINJuly 02, 2021
KABUL: Afghan security forces have taken control of Bagram Airfield, a key American military base near Kabul, as foreign troops leave the country nearly 20 years after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Bagram Airfield, some 50 km north of Kabul, served as the hub of America’s operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
The withdrawal from Bagram Airfield is seen as an indication that the US is completing the drawdown months ahead of President Joe Biden’s September deadline, despite a recent spike in Taliban attacks against Afghan government forces.
“All coalition and American troops have left Bagram Airbase,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry, told Arab News as the base was handed over to the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF).
“ANDSF will protect the base and use it to combat terrorism,” he said.
He refused to share details of the handover and about what equipment US troops had left behind.
Before the arrival of US troops, Bagram Airfield was used by Russians during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979-89, but it was under the American occupation that the base became a fortress city with shops, American fast-food outlets and sports venues. At the peak of the US military presence in 2012, the base saw more than 100,000 troops pass through its compound.
Part of the facility served as a detention center for suspected militants, earning notoriety over alleged torture of its inmates.
The Taliban in a statement on Friday welcomed the US departure from Bagram as a “positive step,” adding that they were waiting for a complete withdrawal of all foreign soldiers from Afghan soil.
As most NATO soldiers have already left in accordance with a historic deal signed by Washington and the Taliban in February last year, about 650 American servicemen are expected to stay in Afghanistan to protect the US Embassy in Kabul and, possibly, the city’s airport, despite repeated Taliban threats against any foreign military presence in the country after the withdrawal deadline.
The US and NATO departure comes as the Taliban have captured several dozens of districts in the past few weeks and also seized more grounds near the Bagram base in the past two days, according to local sources.
While the Taliban advances come both by force and through the surrender of Afghan government forces, the government has in turn started resurrecting and arming local militias to assist its troops.
Continued violence risks a civil war in Afghanistan, the US top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, said during his last conference in Kabul earlier this week.