Almost 20 years later, the United States leaves Bagram


Bagram, Afghanistan (AP) — For nearly 20 years, Bagram Airfield has been the center of American military power in Afghanistan, a small stretch behind fences and blast walls just an hour’s drive north of Kabul. It was a city. Initially, it was a symbol of the United States’ willingness to take revenge on the 9/11 attack, and then a symbol of the struggle to survive the subsequent war with the Taliban.

In just a few days, the last US soldier will leave Bagram. They leave behind what probably everyone connecting to the base, whether American or Afghan, considers it a mixed heritage.

Andrew Watkins, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group based in Afghanistan, said: group.

The U.S. Central Command said last week that Bagram’s packing was well over 50% and the rest was progressing rapidly. US officials said the withdrawal of US troops is likely to be fully completed by July 4. The Afghan army then takes over Bagram as part of an ongoing battle with the Taliban. Chaotic eruption.

Departure is full of symbolism. In particular, it is the second time that Afghan invaders have passed Bagram.

The Soviet Union built an airfield in the 1950s. When it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to support the communist government, it turned it into a major base for defending the country’s occupation. The Soviet Union fought the US-backed Mujahideen for ten years, and President Ronald Reagan called him a free fighter. He regarded them as the front-line army of the last Cold War battle.

The Soviet Union negotiated a withdrawal in 1989. Three years later, the pro-Moscow government collapsed and the Mujahideen came to power, but pointed their weapons at each other and killed thousands of civilians. The turmoil brought power to the Taliban, who conquered Kabul in 1996.

When the United States and NATO inherited Bagram in 2001, they found it in a collection of ruined, rocket- and shell-cut crumbling buildings. Most of the fences around it were destroyed. It was abandoned after the Taliban and rival Mujahideen warlords were abused in a battle to flee to a northern enlave.

After expelling the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began rebuilding Bagram in collaboration with the warlord’s allies, which were initially temporary structures and then permanent. Its growth was explosive and eventually swallowed about 30 square miles.

“The closure of Bagram is a major symbolic and strategic victory for the Taliban,” said Bill Roggio, senior researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“If the Taliban could control the base, it would serve as an anti-American promotional feed for years to come,” said Roggio, editor of the Foundation’s Long War Journal.

It will also be a military plunge.

The huge base has two runways. The latest 12,000-foot length was built in 2006 at a cost of $ 96 million. It has 110 seawalls, is basically an aircraft parking lot and is protected by a blast wall. According to GlobalSecurity, a security think tank, Bagram has three large hangars, a control tower and numerous support buildings. The base has a 50-bed hospital with a trauma bay, three operating rooms and a modern dental office. There is also a fitness centre and fast food restaurant. In another section is a prison that is notorious and feared among Afghans.

Jonathan Schroden, a US-based research and analysis organization CNA, estimates that well over 100,000 people have spent a considerable amount of time in Bagram over the last two decades. “Bagram laid the foundation for most of the wartime experiences of U.S. military members and contractors who served in Afghanistan,” said Schroden, director of CNA’s Center for Stability Development.

“The last US military departure from there will serve as the last turn of the page for many of these people with respect to their time in the country,” he said.

The base was a major employment supplier for Afghans in the Bagram district, with more than 100 villages supported by orchards and farmlands. The withdrawal of the United States will affect almost every household, said district governor Dawish Rauffy.

Americans have provided Afghan troops with weapons and other supplies. Whatever else they aren’t taking, they destroy it and sell it to scrap dealers around Bagram. U.S. officials say that what is available needs to be kept out of the hands of the Taliban.

Last week, the US Central Command said it had junk 14,790 equipment and sent 763 C-17 aircraft loaded with materials from Afghanistan. Bagram villagers say an explosion was heard from inside the base, apparently Americans destroying buildings and materials.

Mr Rauffy said many villagers were complaining to him that the United States was leaving only their junk.

“There is sadly symbolic about how the United States tried to leave Bagram,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asian program based in the United States. ..

“It’s not the kindest farewell gift to the Afghans, including those who take over the base,” he said.

Inevitably, there is a comparison with the former Soviet Union.

Retired Afghan General Saifra Safi, who worked with US troops in Bagram, said he left all the equipment when the Soviet withdrew. They “did not have much with them, they were only the cars needed to return their soldiers to Russia,” he said.

The base prison was handed over to Afghanistan in 2012 and they will continue to operate it. In the early days of the war, Bagram became synonymous with horror after Guantanamo Bay for many Afghans. Parents threatened crying children in prison.

In the early days of the aggression, Afghans often disappeared for months without reporting their whereabouts until the International Red Cross Commission of the Red Cross placed them in Bagram. Some returned home with stories of torture.

“If anyone even mentions the word Bagram, you’ll hear a cry of pain from prison,” said Bagram, who was accused of belonging to the Gulbuddin Hekmatial faction, a warlord designated as a terrorist by the United States at the time. Zabifra, who spent six years, said. In his arrest, it was a crime to belong to the Hekmatial party.

In 2020, four years after President Ashraf Ghani signed a peace agreement with Hekmatial, the one-named Zabifra was released.

Roggio states that the prison situation is a “major concern” and many of its prisoners are known as Taliban leaders or members of radical groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups. It is believed that about 7,000 prisoners are still in prison.

“If the base collapses and the prison goes out of control, these detainees can strengthen the ranks of these terrorist groups,” said Loggio.

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