US hands over Bagram airfield to Afghanistan

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Kabul

After nearly 20 years, the US and NATO troops left Bagram Airfield, after handin g over the base to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety on Friday.

One of the officials said the US top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces.”

The withdrawal from Bagram Airfield is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500-3,500 US troops have left Afghanistan or are nearing a departure, months ahead of President Joe Biden’s promise that they would be gone by Sept. 11.

Bagram Air Base served as the linchpin for US operations in the rugged country, where the long war against the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies was fought with air strikes and resupply missions from the airfield.

“All coalition forces are off Bagram,” said the official without specifying when the last foreign troops left the base, 50 kilometres north of the capital Kabul.

He did not say when it would be officially handed over to Afghan forces, but Ministry of Defence Spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said government authorities were “fully prepared” to take over the base.

The US military and Nato are in the final stages of winding up involvement in Afghanistan, bringing home an unspecified number of remaining troops by a deadline of September 11.

The Taliban have launched relentless offensives across Afghanistan in the past two months, gobbling up dozens of districts as Afghan security forces have largely consolidated their power in the country’s major urban areas.

The ability of Afghan forces to maintain control of Bagram airfield will likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.

The exit of foreign forces from Bagram base “symbolises that Afghanistan is alone, abandoned, and left to defend itself against the Taliban’s onslaught”, said Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani.

“Having reached home, Americans and allied forces will now watch what they fought so hard to build over 20 years burn down from afar and knowing that the Afghan men and women they fought with risk losing everything.”

Media reports say the Pentagon will probably retain about 600 US troops in Afghanistan to guard the vast US diplomatic compound in Kabul.

Residents from Bagram said security will only deteriorate with the exit of foreign forces. “The situation is already chaotic […] there is a lot of insecurity and the government does not have (enough) weapons and equipment,” Matiullah, who
owns a footwear shop in Bagram bazaar, told AFP.

“Since they started the withdrawal, the situation has got worse. There is no work […] there is no business,” said Fazal Karim, a bicycle mechanic. Over the years the mini-city has been visited by hundreds of thousands of US and Nato service
members and contractors.—AFP

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