The US military has departed Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase, the epicenter of its war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, after almost 20 years, according to two US officials.
According to The Associated Press, the airbase was turned over to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in its entirety on Friday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information to the public.
One of the officials also said the US top commander in Afghanistan, General Austin S Miller, “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces”.
Outside the Bagram airbase, Afghan troops keep watch at a checkpoint.
Bagram Airbase, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Kabul, saw over 100,000 US soldiers travel through its vast complex at its height.
According to Reuters, an Afghan official said the facility will be formally turned over to the government during a ceremony on Saturday.
The departure from the airfield is the clearest sign that the last of the 2,500-3,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan have departed or are about to leave, months ahead of President Joe Biden’s pledge that they would be gone by September 11.
Soon after the US announced in mid-April that it was ending its “forever war,” it became apparent that the withdrawal of US troops and their anticipated 7,000 NATO partners would be closer to July 4, the country’s Independence Day.
The Associated Press analyzed announcements from various nations and found that the bulk of European soldiers departed with minimal fanfare, in striking contrast to the spectacular and public display of power and solidarity when NATO allies lined up to support the US invasion in 2001.
The US has declined to specify when the last of its troops would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns as well as the ongoing negotiations for the safety of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. The airport is presently guarded by Turkish and US troops.
In addition, the US will station around 6,500 soldiers in Afghanistan to guard its huge embassy in Kabul. Their presence will be covered by a bilateral arrangement with the Afghan government, it is believed.
The US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan comes as Taliban militants advance across the country, taking control of dozens of districts and overwhelming the country’s battered Afghan Security Forces.
The government has revived militias with a history of horrific brutality to help Afghan security forces, which is a worrisome trend.