US forces leave Afghan airbase in Bagram after 20 years | NATO News

After nearly 20 years, the US military left Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, the epicenter of its war, to oust the Taliban and track down the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, two US officials said.

The air base has been handed over in full to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, they said on Friday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media, the Associated Press reported. .

One of the officials also said that the US commander-in-chief in Afghanistan, General Austin S Miller, “still retains all capabilities and authorities to protect the forces.”

Afghan soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint outside Bagram Air Base [File: Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

At its peak, Bagram Air Base saw more than 100,000 US troops pass through its sprawling complex 50 km (30 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

An Afghan official said the base would be officially handed over to the government in a ceremony on Saturday, Reuters news agency reported.

The withdrawal from the air base is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500 to 3,500 American troops have left Afghanistan or are about to leave, months before President Joe Biden’s promise that they would be left on September 11.

In Washington, DC, Biden told reporters at the White House that after 20 years of U.S. support, he expects Afghan government leaders and military to face increasing Taliban attacks.

“They have the capacity to support the government. There’s going to have to be more negotiations down the road, I guess, ”Biden said.

“But I’m afraid they are dealing with the internal issues they need to be able to generate the kind of support they need nationally to keep the government going,” the US president said.

It was clear shortly after the announcement in mid-April that the United States was ending its “Eternal War,” that the departure of American soldiers and their estimated 7,000 NATO allies would be closer to the end. July 4, when the country will celebrate its Independence Day.

Most NATO troops have already left Afghanistan this week.

Announcements from several countries analyzed by the Associated Press show that a majority of European troops left unceremoniously – in stark contrast to the dramatic public display of strength and unity when NATO allies lined up for support the American invasion in 2001.

The United States declined to say when the last of its troops would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns, but also the protection of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul which is still being negotiated. Turkish and American soldiers are currently protecting the airport.

The United States will also have around 6,500 troops in Afghanistan to protect its sprawling embassy in the capital. It is understood that their presence will be covered by a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government.

The United States and NATO leave Afghanistan as Taliban fighters advance in several parts of the country, invading dozens of districts and overwhelming besieged Afghan security forces.

In a disturbing development, the government has resurrected militias with a history of brutal violence to aid Afghan security forces.

“The Taliban at the door of Kabul”

In what had all the hallmarks of a final press conference, General Miller this week warned that continued violence risked a civil war in Afghanistan that should worry the world.

Last month, Biden told his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, that “the Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want.”

Ghani said his job now was to “deal with the consequences” of the US withdrawal.

The deal with the Taliban on the US withdrawal was reached under the administration of former President Donald Trump.

In exchange for the American withdrawal, the Taliban pledged to prevent any armed group from launching international attacks from Afghan soil.

The group has also pledged to start talks with its Afghan rivals, but little progress has been made in the negotiations.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Faiz Zaland, political commentator and professor at Kabul University, said the withdrawal of US troops was “a bit rushed in the current situation because we do not have peace on the ground” .

“The withdrawal is happening just as the Taliban are at the doorstep of Kabul,” he said.

“There are severe and bitter fighting taking place all over the country. More than 80 districts have fallen to the Taliban in the past month, ”he said, calling June“ the deadliest month for Afghan forces in the past two decades ”.

Zaland said the United States was making an “irresponsible exit” by leaving before an intra-Afghan peace deal was finalized.

“It seems likely that the country is heading for a civil war,” he told Al Jazeera.

Filled with symbolism

The departure of the United States is loaded with symbolism. Notably, this is the second time that an invader from Afghanistan has passed through Bagram.

The former Soviet Union built the airfield in the 1950s. When it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to support a Communist government, it made it its main base from which it would defend its occupation of the country.

For 10 years, the Soviets fought the US-backed “mujahedin”, dubbed the Freedom Fighters by then President Ronald Reagan, who saw them as a frontline force in one of the last years. battles of the cold war.

When the United States and NATO inherited Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins, a crumbling complex of buildings, carved out by rockets and shells, most of its perimeter fence destroyed.

It had been abandoned after being defeated in battles between the Taliban and rival warlords fleeing to their northern enclaves.

The huge base has two tracks. The most recent, measuring 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) long, was built in 2006 at a cost of $ 96 million. There are 110 pavements, which are essentially parking spaces for airplanes, protected by blast walls.

GlobalSecurity, a security think tank, says Bagram includes three large hangars, a control tower and numerous support buildings.

The base has a 50-bed hospital with a trauma room, three operating rooms and a modern dental clinic. Another section houses a prison, notorious and feared by Afghans.

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