/Western forces skulk out of Bagram airbase amid news blackout on Afghanistan

Western forces skulk out of Bagram airbase amid news blackout on Afghanistan

Western forces have skulked out of Bagram airbase under a news blackout as the gloating Taliban announced they ‘welcomed and supported’ the exit.

Save for pictures of US transport aircraft arriving to take the last of the troops home on Thursday, there has been a conspicuous lack of fanfare about the withdrawal following two decades of futile struggle.

The Taliban, meanwhile, made hay of the long-awaited retreat, saying today it ‘will pave the way for Afghans to decide about their future between themselves.’

The exit, months ahead of Joe Biden’s planned symbolic withdrawal on September 11, appears to have been expedited by the Taliban’s capture of swathes of the Afghan hinterland.

Over the last two months, the resurgent jihadists have forced the government’s security forces to consolidate in the cities, taking up defensive positions in preparation for what threatens to be a bloody civil war in the wake of the Western withdrawal.

The Taliban has already seized more than 700 trucks and armoured cars, as well as artillery from the now-isolated Afghan National Army (ANA), who were kitted out top-of-the-line US military hardware. 

Pictured: Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bahram U.S. air base, on the day the last American troops vacated it, July 2, 2021. The Taliban said they 'welcome and support' the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the base as part of a peace deal with the group

Pictured: Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bahram U.S. air base, on the day the last American troops vacated it, July 2, 2021. The Taliban said they 'welcome and support' the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the base as part of a peace deal with the group

Pictured: Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bahram U.S. air base, on the day the last American troops vacated it, July 2, 2021. The Taliban said they ‘welcome and support’ the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the base as part of a peace deal with the group

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand guard at a road checkpoint outside Bagram Air Base on Friday after all US and NATO troops left

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand guard at a road checkpoint outside Bagram Air Base on Friday after all US and NATO troops left

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand guard at a road checkpoint outside Bagram Air Base on Friday after all US and NATO troops left

Footage shared on social media last week purports to show ANA troops laying down their arms and parking their Humvees for Taliban militants to take control of

Footage shared on social media last week purports to show ANA troops laying down their arms and parking their Humvees for Taliban militants to take control of

Footage shared on social media last week purports to show ANA troops laying down their arms and parking their Humvees for Taliban militants to take control of

An investigation of online footage and pictures by the Oryx blog has tallied up 715 light vehicles which fell into Taliban hands in June alone.

It included more than 300 M1152 Humvees which feature enhanced armour protection built to withstand terrorist IEDs, .50-calibre mounted machine guns and powerful engines for fast off-roading.

Footage shared on social media last week purports to show ANA troops laying down their arms and parking their Humvees for Taliban militants to take control of. 

The colossal seizure of hardware comes as the last troops left Bagram, leaving it in the hands of their former comrades in the ANA.

The airfield, first secured by British special forces nearly 20 years ago, became a sprawling US fortress which thousands of troops passed through in the war to hunt down the Taliban and the al-Qaida perpetrators of 9/11. 

The long campaign was fought with air strikes and resupply missions from Bagram’s runways. 

‘All coalition forces are off Bagram,’ said a U.S. official – who asked not to be identified – said on Friday without specifying when the last foreign troops left the base, 30 miles north of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.

A line of American-made Humvee trucks is seen in the footage being commandeered by what appear to be Taliban militants.

A line of American-made Humvee trucks is seen in the footage being commandeered by what appear to be Taliban militants.

A line of American-made Humvee trucks is seen in the footage being commandeered by what appear to be Taliban militants.

A pile of guns which ANA troops are seen laying down purportedly for the Taliban to seize

A pile of guns which ANA troops are seen laying down purportedly for the Taliban to seize

A pile of guns which ANA troops are seen laying down purportedly for the Taliban to seize  

The airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defence Force in its entirety, they said on condition they not be identified because they were not authorised to release the information to the media.

One of the officials also said the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, General Austin S. Miller, ‘still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces.’ 

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Islamic State militants are building up their forces in northern Afghanistan.

Being quoted by Interfax news agency, he said Islamic State was actively gaining territory in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal and what he described as the ‘irresponsible’ stance taken by officials in Kabul.  

Bagram Air Base (pictured on Thursday, July 1 as a military plane comes in to land) served as the linchpin for US operations in Afghanistan. Now, all US and NATO troops have left the base, according to US defence sources

Bagram Air Base (pictured on Thursday, July 1 as a military plane comes in to land) served as the linchpin for US operations in Afghanistan. Now, all US and NATO troops have left the base, according to US defence sources

Bagram Air Base (pictured on Thursday, July 1 as a military plane comes in to land) served as the linchpin for US operations in Afghanistan. Now, all US and NATO troops have left the base, according to US defence sources

The US fortress is 40 miles north of the capital, Kabul. It was the heart of American military might in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls

The US fortress is 40 miles north of the capital, Kabul. It was the heart of American military might in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls

The US fortress is 40 miles north of the capital, Kabul. It was the heart of American military might in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls

Afghan soldiers move into Bagram airbase today following the departure of US, NATO forces

Afghan soldiers move into Bagram airbase today following the departure of US, NATO forces

Afghan soldiers move into Bagram airbase today following the departure of US, NATO forces

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 – a pledge made by U.S. president Joe Biden. 

They are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base – whether American or Afghan – considers a strained legacy after almost 20 years in the country, a period triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.  

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 over the vital Bagram airfield will likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in the nearby capital Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.

With the departure of the US forces, thousands of Afghan translators now face being left stranded because they haven’t yet been accepted for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) into America. 

Up to 18,000 translators and interpreters are under constant fear of deadly attacks from the Taliban and have been run out of their homes because of their support for the American government over the last 20 years. 

At its peak around 2012, the mini-city saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops and NATO service members pass through its sprawling compound barely an hour’s drive north of the Afghan capital Kabul. 

It boasted swimming pools, cinemas and spas – and even a boardwalk featuring fast-food outlets such as Burger King and Pizza Hut.

The base also hosted a prison that held thousands of Taliban and jihadist inmates.

It has cost the US military 2,312 lives and $816bn, according to the Department of Defence. 

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on July 1, 2021

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on July 1, 2021

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on July 1, 2021

Pictured: US troops load up helicopter onto a C-17 Globesmaster at Bagram on June 16. The western forces are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American, British or Afghan, considers a strained legacy

Pictured: US troops load up helicopter onto a C-17 Globesmaster at Bagram on June 16. The western forces are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American, British or Afghan, considers a strained legacy

Pictured: US troops load up helicopter onto a C-17 Globesmaster at Bagram on June 16. The western forces are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American, British or Afghan, considers a strained legacy

The withdrawal from Bagram Airfield is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500-3,500 U.S. 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.

It was clear soon after the mid-April announcement that the U.S. was ending its ‘forever war,’ that the departure of U.S. soldiers and their estimated 7,000 NATO allies would be nearer to July 4, when America celebrates its Independence Day.

Most NATO soldiers have already quietly exited as of this week. 

Announcements from several countries analysed by The Associated Press show that a majority of European troops has now left with little ceremony – a stark contrast to the dramatic and public show of force and unity when NATO allies lined up to back the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The U.S. has refused to say when the last U.S. soldier would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns, but also the protection of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport is still being negotiated. 

Turkish and U.S. soldiers currently are protecting the airport. That protection is currently covered under the Resolute Support Mission, which is the military mission being wound down.

Until a new agreement for the airport’s protection is negotiated between Turkey and the Afghan government, and possibly the United States, the Resolute Support mission would appear to have to continue in order to give international troops the legal authority.

The U.S. will also have about 650 troops in Afghanistan to protect its sprawling embassy in the capital. Their presence it is understood will be covered in a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government. 

Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s

Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s

Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s

TALIBAN GAINS NEW GROUND: A lighting offensive by the Taliban which began in May has seen the group take control of vast swathes of rural Afghanistan and battle their way to the doorstep of major cities such as Kandahar, Herat and Kabul - with attacks on them expected soon

TALIBAN GAINS NEW GROUND: A lighting offensive by the Taliban which began in May has seen the group take control of vast swathes of rural Afghanistan and battle their way to the doorstep of major cities such as Kandahar, Herat and Kabul - with attacks on them expected soon

TALIBAN GAINS NEW GROUND: A lighting offensive by the Taliban which began in May has seen the group take control of vast swathes of rural Afghanistan and battle their way to the doorstep of major cities such as Kandahar, Herat and Kabul – with attacks on them expected soon

Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in the north. 

Ironically, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the Red Army expanded it significantly during their near decade-long occupation.

When Moscow pulled out, it became central to the raging civil war — it was reported that at one point the Taliban controlled one end of the three-kilometre (two-mile) runway and the opposition Northern Alliance the other.

In recent months, Bagram has come under rocket barrages claimed by the jihadist Islamic State, stirring fears that militants are already eyeing the base for future attacks.

The NATO-led non-combat mission aimed to train Afghan forces into ensuring their country’s security after the departure of foreign forces.

As of February 2021, there were about 9,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan, of which the US made up the largest contingent of 2,500.

So far Germany and Italy have both confirmed the full withdrawal of their troops.

US forces load a UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter into a C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Resolute Support retrograde mission, the withdrawal from Bagram, on June 16, 2021

US forces load a UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter into a C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Resolute Support retrograde mission, the withdrawal from Bagram, on June 16, 2021

US forces load a UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter into a C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Resolute Support retrograde mission, the withdrawal from Bagram, on June 16, 2021

A gate is seen at the Bagram Air Base, around 40 miles north of Kabul on June 25, as the last US troops withdraw from Afghanistan

A gate is seen at the Bagram Air Base, around 40 miles north of Kabul on June 25, as the last US troops withdraw from Afghanistan

A gate is seen at the Bagram Air Base, around 40 miles north of Kabul on June 25, as the last US troops withdraw from Afghanistan

The currently US departure from Bagram – once described as Afghanistan’s Guantanamo – is rife with symbolism. 

Not least, it’s the second time that an invader of Afghanistan has come and gone through Bagram: First the Soviet Union and then the US. 

The Soviet Union built the airfield in the 1950s. When it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back a communist government, it turned it into its main base from which it would defend its occupation of the country.

For 10 years, the Soviets fought the US-backed mujahedeen, dubbed freedom fighters by President Ronald Reagan, who saw them as a front-line force in one of the last Cold War battles.

The Soviet Union negotiated its withdrawal in 1989. Three years later, the pro-Moscow government collapsed, and the mujahedeen took power, only to turn their weapons on each other and kill thousands of civilians. That turmoil brought to power the Taliban who overran Kabul in 1996.

More than a decade later, a hundred British troops from Special Boat Service – the Royal Marines’ equivalent of the SAS – flew into Bagram on November 15, 2001 to reconnoiter the area before the deployment of thousands of soldiers from Britain and the US.

Within days, they had the base up and running, including the old control tower which was blasted and bullet-riddled from the previous wars between the Russians and the US-backed mujahedeen.

When the US and NATO inherited Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins, a collection of crumbling buildings, gouged by rockets and shells, most of its perimeter fence wrecked. It had been abandoned after being battered in the battles between the Taliban and rival mujahedeen warlords fleeing to their northern enclaves. 

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles. 

The U.S. and NATO leaving comes as Taliban insurgents make strides in several parts of the country, overrunning dozens of districts and overwhelming beleaguered Afghan security Forces.

In a worrying development, the government has resurrected militias with a history of brutal violence to assist the Afghan security forces. At what had all the hallmarks of a final press conference, Gen. Miller this week warned that continued violence risked a civil war in Afghanistan that should have the world worried. 

MARCH 2002: U.S. troops from 10th Mountain Division make their way a Chinook helicopter at Bagram Air Base on their way to take up the fight in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002

MARCH 2002: U.S. troops from 10th Mountain Division make their way a Chinook helicopter at Bagram Air Base on their way to take up the fight in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002

MARCH 2002: U.S. troops from 10th Mountain Division make their way a Chinook helicopter at Bagram Air Base on their way to take up the fight in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002

APRIL 2002: Royal Marine Commandos board Chinook helicopters at the Bagram Air Base as they prepare to be transported to the theatre of operations and participate in Operation Snipe in the Afghan mountains

APRIL 2002: Royal Marine Commandos board Chinook helicopters at the Bagram Air Base as they prepare to be transported to the theatre of operations and participate in Operation Snipe in the Afghan mountains

APRIL 2002: Royal Marine Commandos board Chinook helicopters at the Bagram Air Base as they prepare to be transported to the theatre of operations and participate in Operation Snipe in the Afghan mountains

NOVEMBER 2019: President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram over Thanksgiving

NOVEMBER 2019: President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram over Thanksgiving

NOVEMBER 2019: President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram over Thanksgiving

‘Bagram grew into such a massive military installation that, as with few other bases in Afghanistan and even Iraq, it came to symbolize and epitomize the phrase ‘mission creep’,’ said Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group.  

The mood on the ground among the locals, at the time, was described as one of ‘delight’.

One Afghan soldier said at the time: ‘It is so nice to see the British come here. British or Americans, I don’t mind which, both are my friends. Five planes came in last night. When I saw the British planes I thought ‘the British are coming in, so the Taliban are definitely going out’.’

With hindsight, it’s clear that the man’s surety was misplaced.  

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades.

In June 2009, two American soldiers were killed in a rocket attack that also left six US soldiers injured. Four US troops were killed and several wounded in a Taliban mortar attack in June 2013.

In December 2015, six US troops were killed after a Taliban suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol near Bagram. 

And in April 2019, a car bomb attack at Bagram left three Marines dead. 

In total, approximately 2,312 American military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 

Now, the Taliban are on the cusp of a great comeback, recapturing vast swathes of the Afghani hinterland and drawing close to major cities as US and NATO withdraw. 

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades. In April 2019, three US Marines were killed when a Taliban car bomb detonated at the airbase

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades. In April 2019, three US Marines were killed when a Taliban car bomb detonated at the airbase

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades. In April 2019, three US Marines were killed when a Taliban car bomb detonated at the airbase

VICTIMS: Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y were killed in April 2019 when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield

VICTIMS: Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y were killed in April 2019 when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield

VICTIMS: Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y were killed in April 2019 when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield

President Barack Obama rallies troops at Bagram in 2010

President Barack Obama rallies troops at Bagram in 2010

President George W. Bush speaks to troops at Bagram in 2006

President George W. Bush speaks to troops at Bagram in 2006

It has been visited by every US President – apart from Joe Biden – since American troops moved in: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Biden visited when he was Vice President back in 2011

Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Bagram’s closure is a ‘major symbolic and strategic victory’ for the Taliban.   

‘If the Taliban is able to take control of the base, it will serve as anti-U.S. propaganda fodder for years to come,’ said Roggio who is also editor of the foundation’s Long War Journal.

It would also be a military windfall.

The enormous base has two runways. The most recent, at 12,000 feet long, was built in 2006 at a cost of $96 million. There are 110 revetments, parking spots for aircraft, 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 bay, three operating theatres and a modern dental clinic. There are also fitness centers and fast food restaurants. Another section houses a prison, notorious and feared among Afghans. 

It has been visited by every US President – apart from Joe Biden – since American troops moved in: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Biden visited when he was Vice President back in 2011. 

Bagram has also been symbolic in Hollywood having been featured in films such as Iron Man and Lone Survivor, as well as TV series Homeland.  

An Afghan soldier walks around the perimeter of the airbase with the control tower seen behind the barbed-wire wall at Bagram Air Base

An Afghan soldier walks around the perimeter of the airbase with the control tower seen behind the barbed-wire wall at Bagram Air Base

An Afghan soldier walks around the perimeter of the airbase with the control tower seen behind the barbed-wire wall at Bagram Air Base

A watchtower along the perimeter of the heavily-fortified base, the hub of US operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years

A watchtower along the perimeter of the heavily-fortified base, the hub of US operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years

A watchtower along the perimeter of the heavily-fortified base, the hub of US operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles complete with a hefty border fence

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles complete with a hefty border fence

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles complete with a hefty border fence

The prison in the base was handed over to the Afghans in 2012 and they will continue to operate it. In the early years of the war, for many Afghans, Bagram became synonymous with fear, next only to Guantanamo Bay. 

Parents would threaten their crying children with the prison.

In the early years of the invasion, Afghans often disappeared for months without any reports of their whereabouts until the International Committee of the Red Cross located them in Bagram. Some returned home with tales of torture. 

‘When someone mentions even the word Bagram I hear the screams of pain from the prison,’ said Zabihullah, who spent six years in Bagram, accused of belonging to the faction of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord designated a terrorist by the US. At the time of his arrest it was an offence to belong to Hekmatyar’s party.

Zabihullah, who goes by one name, was released in 2020, four years after President Ashraf Ghani signed a peace deal with Hekmatyar.

Roggio says the status of the prison is a ‘major concern,’ noting that many of its prisoners are known Taliban leaders or members of militant groups, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. It’s believed about 7,000 detainees are still held there.

‘If the base falls and the prison is overrun, these detainees can bolster the ranks of these terror groups,’ Roggio said. 

Jonathan Schroden, of the US-based research and analysis organization CNA, estimates that well over 100,000 people spent significant time at Bagram over the past two decades. 

‘Bagram formed a foundation for the wartime experience of a large fraction of US military members and contractors who served in Afghanistan,’ said Schroden, director of CNA’s Center for Stability and Development.

‘The departure of the last US troops from there will likely serve as the final turn of the page for many of these folks with respect to their time in that country,’ he said.  

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near the base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near the base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near the base)

Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind, but many have searched through the rubble for valuable items, such as these boots, to sell

Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind, but many have searched through the rubble for valuable items, such as these boots, to sell

District Governor Darwaish Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind (pictured, a man holds a teddy bear as people look for useable items at a junkyard near the Bagram Air Base)

District Governor Darwaish Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind (pictured, a man holds a teddy bear as people look for useable items at a junkyard near the Bagram Air Base)

District Governor Darwaish Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind (pictured, a man holds a teddy bear as people look for useable items at a junkyard near the Bagram Air Base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Bagram villagers say they hear explosions from inside the base, apparently the Americans destroying buildings and material (pictured, people selecting items from a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Bagram villagers say they hear explosions from inside the base, apparently the Americans destroying buildings and material (pictured, people selecting items from a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Bagram villagers say they hear explosions from inside the base, apparently the Americans destroying buildings and material (pictured, people selecting items from a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Last week, the U.S. Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment (pictured, a policeman stands guard as workers unload a container at a junkyard in Bagram)

Last week, the U.S. Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment (pictured, a policeman stands guard as workers unload a container at a junkyard in Bagram)

Last week, the U.S. Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment (pictured, a policeman stands guard as workers unload a container at a junkyard in Bagram)

For Afghans in Bagram district, a region of more than 100 villages supported by orchards and farming fields, the base has been a major supplier of employment.

The US withdrawal effects nearly every household, according to district governor Darwaish Raufi.

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. 

Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram. US officials say they must ensure nothing usable can ever fall into Taliban hands.

Last week, the US Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment and sent 763 C-17 aircraft loaded with material out of Afghanistan. 

Bagram villagers say they have been hearing explosions from inside the base, which is apparently the Americans destroying buildings and materials.

Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the US leaving just their junk behind. 

‘There’s something sadly symbolic about how the US has gone about leaving Bagram. The decision to take so much away and destroy so much of what is left speaks to the U.S. urgency to get out quickly,’ said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US-based Wilson Center.

‘It’s not the kindest parting gift for Afghans, including those taking over the base.’

Inevitably, comparisons to the former Soviet Union have arisen. 

Retired Afghan Gen. Saifullah Safi, who worked alongside US forces at Bagram, said the Soviets left all their equipment when they withdrew. They ‘didn’t take much with them, just the vehicles they needed to transport their soldiers back to Russia,’ he said.   

Militiamen gather near Kabul on June 23 this year to pledge their allegiance to the Afghan government in preparation for a Taliban assault that is threatening to overwhelm major cities

Militiamen gather near Kabul on June 23 this year to pledge their allegiance to the Afghan government in preparation for a Taliban assault that is threatening to overwhelm major cities

Militiamen gather near Kabul on June 23 this year to pledge their allegiance to the Afghan government in preparation for a Taliban assault that is threatening to overwhelm major cities

Hundreds of militiamen shout 'death to the Taliban' as they join government forces in Kabul on June 23 ahead of what is expected to be a major jihadist assault

Hundreds of militiamen shout 'death to the Taliban' as they join government forces in Kabul on June 23 ahead of what is expected to be a major jihadist assault

Hundreds of militiamen shout ‘death to the Taliban’ as they join government forces in Kabul on June 23 ahead of what is expected to be a major jihadist assault

Meanwhile, Afghan translators and interpreters who have worked alongside all US military branches and against the insurgents for the last 20 years now fear they could be left behind. 

They have served with the CIA, the State Department, the Army and the Marines on the frontlines in one of the most dangerous battle zones in the world – but have been left in limbo by the slow process to get accepted for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). 

They are the cooks, drivers and cultural advisors who were essential in supporting ground operations – even though they knew siding with American military would put their livelihoods in imminent danger. 

They are all under threat, and when the U.S. ends its military presence on September 11, they will be even more exposed to the violence of the Taliban, who have grown increasingly aggressive since Biden announced he was pulling out U.S. forces.

Many have already seen relatives killed and others fear they will be decapitated. They are now reaching out to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to give them safe haven in the United States.

Some have been waiting years to have their application approved, with the longest dating back to 1981, according to No One Left Behind, the non-profit charity fighting to make sure the U.S. government keeps their promise to those who supported the military during some of the most intense fighting in Helmand Province.

The organization says 300 Afghan interpreters have been killed in targeted attacks while waiting to secure their visas since 2014, but the exact numbers are unknown. 

The process should take nine months, but has been hampered by a myriad of setbacks including the COVID pandemic and the need for translators to get paperwork. 

SIVs are available to those who have helped the U.S. military and now face serious threats as a result of their employment. 

The U.S. has handed out 50 special visas per year to be issued to Afghan and Iraqi interpreters and translators. 

There have also been 26,500 visas allocated to Afghans employed by the government since December 2014, but the process for those who haven’t had their applications accepted is slow. 

Explainer: When is the war in Afghanistan really over?

As the last US combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, the question arises: When is the war really over?

For Afghans the answer is clear but grim: no time soon. An emboldened Taliban insurgency is making battlefield gains, and prospective peace talks are stalled. Some fear that once foreign forces are gone, Afghanistan will dive deeper into civil war. Though degraded, an Afghan affiliate of the so-called Islamic State extremist network also lurks.

For the United States and its coalition partners, the endgame is murky. Although all combat troops and 20 years of accumulated war materiel will soon be gone, the head of US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, will have authority until September to defend Afghan forces against the Taliban. He can do so by ordering strikes with US warplanes based outside of Afghanistan, according to defence officials.

US officials said on Friday that the US military has left Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. The facility was the epicentre of the war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Two officials say the airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defence Force in its entirety.

Here is a look at the end of the war:

What is left of the combat mission?

Technically, US forces have not been engaged in ground combat in Afghanistan since 2014. But counter-terrorism troops have been pursuing and hitting extremists since then, including with Afghanistan-based aircraft. Those strike aircraft are now gone and those strikes, along with any logistical support for Afghan forces, will be done from outside the country.

Inside Afghanistan, US troops will no longer be there to train or advise Afghan forces. An unusually large US security contingent of 650 troops, based at the US embassy compound, will protect American diplomats and potentially help secure the Kabul international airport. Turkey is expected to continue its current mission of providing airport security, but Gen McKenzie will have authority to keep as many as 300 more troops to assist that mission until September.

It is also possible that the US military may be asked to assist any large-scale evacuation of Afghans seeking Special Immigrant Visas, although the State Department-led effort may not require a military airlift. The White House is concerned that Afghans who helped the US war effort, and are thereby vulnerable to Taliban retribution, not be left behind.

When he decided in April to bring the US war to a close, President Joe Biden gave the Pentagon until September 11 to complete the withdrawal. The army general in charge in Kabul, Scott Miller, has essentially finished it already, with nearly all military equipment gone and few troops left.

Gen Miller himself is expected to depart in coming days. But does that constitute the end of the US war? With as many as 950 US troops in the country until September and the potential for continued air strikes, the answer is probably not.

How wars end

Unlike Afghanistan, some wars end with a flourish. The First World War was over with the armistice signed with Germany on November 11 1918 – a day now celebrated as a federal holiday in the US – and the later signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

The Second World War saw dual celebrations in 1945 with Germany’s surrender marking Victory in Europe (VE Day) and Japan’s surrender a few months later marking Victory Over Japan (VJ Day) following the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Korea, an armistice signed in July 1953 ended the fighting, although technically the war was only suspended because no peace treaty was ever signed.

Other endings have been less clear-cut. The US pulled troops out of Vietnam in 1973, in what many consider a failed war that ended with the fall of Saigon two years later. And when convoys of US troops drove out of Iraq in 2011, a ceremony marked their final departure. But just three years later, American troops were back to rebuild Iraqi forces that collapsed under attacks by IS militants.

Victory or defeat?

As America’s war in Afghanistan draws to a close, there will be no surrender and no peace treaty, no final victory and no decisive defeat. Mr Biden says it was enough that US forces dismantled al Qaida and killed Osama bin Laden, the group’s leader considered the mastermind of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

Lately, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Taliban attacks on Afghan forces and civilians have intensified and the group have taken control of more than 100 district centres. Pentagon leaders have said there is ‘medium’ risk that the Afghan government and its security forces collapse within the next two years, if not sooner.

US leaders insist the only path to peace in Afghanistan is through a negotiated settlement. The Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that said the US would withdraw its troops by May 2021 in exchange for Taliban promises, including that they keep Afghanistan from again being a staging arena for attacks on America.

US officials say the Taliban are not fully adhering to their part of the bargain, even as the US continues its withdrawal.

Nato mission

The Nato Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces began in 2015, when the US-led combat mission was declared over. At that point the Afghans assumed full responsibility for their security, yet they remained dependent on billions of dollars a year in US aid.

At the peak of the war, there were more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan from 50 Nato nations and partner countries. That dwindled to about 10,000 troops from 36 nations for the Resolute Support mission, and as of this week most had withdrawn their troops.

Some may see the war ending when Nato’s mission is declared over. But that may not happen for months.

According to officials, Turkey is negotiating a new bilateral agreement with Afghan leaders in order to remain at the airport to provide security. Until that agreement is completed, the legal authorities for Turkish troops staying in Afghanistan are under the auspices of the Resolute Support mission.

Counter-terror mission

The US troop withdrawal does not mean the end of the war on terrorism. The US has made it clear that it retains the authority to conduct strikes against al Qaida or other terrorist groups in Afghanistan if they threaten the US homeland.

Because the US has pulled its fighter and surveillance aircraft out of the country, it must now rely on manned and unmanned flights from ships at sea and air bases in the Gulf region, such as al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates. The Pentagon is looking for basing alternatives for surveillance aircraft and other assets in countries closer to Afghanistan. As yet, no agreements have been reached.

Reporting by Associated Press  

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