The late night withdrawal: What happened inside Bagram Air Base after US Army left?

The US military left behind thousands of civilian vehicles and hundreds of armoured vehicles while leaving Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base.–File photo

The Americans invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 ‘to root out al Qaeda and prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan’. Almost 20 years later, the American Army left Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base quietly in the dead of the night even without informing the Afghan government or the army and leaving everyone at the mercy of the Taliban.

The US Army left the Bagram Air Base at 03:00 am (local time) on Friday (July 2, 2021), according to media reports emerging from the war-torn country. The Afghan Army came to know about American troops’ departure hours later despite the fact that the Bagram Air Base houses a prison where up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners are being kept.

Within 20 minutes of American troops’ departure from the Bagram Air Base under the cover of darkness, electricity supply to the base was suspended and the entire area plunged into darkness. It was a signal to looters who smashed through barriers and ransacked the abandoned buildings. The next day, leftover items from the base ended up in nearby scrap yards and second hand shops.

The next morning the Bagram Air Base, which was once home to tens of thousands of American troops and had ballooned from a basic Afghan air base to a mini city with swimming pools, cinemas, spas and imported fast food outlets, wore a deserted look.

Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan
An Afghan army soldier keeps watch at Bagram, the morning after US troops withdrew during the night.–File photo

General Asadullah Kohistani, the Afghan commander who took over the Bagram Air Base after the American troops flew away in the darkness of night, told the media that Americans left behind about 3.5 million items, including tens of thousands of bottles of water, energy drinks and ready-made meals for military known as MREs.

The Americans also left behind thousands of civilian vehicles without keys and hundreds of armoured vehicles, says the Associated Press. However, General Kohistani said, the American Army took away heavy weapons and detonated some stocked ammunition. It left behind small weapons and ammunition for the Afghan security forces, he said.

On Friday, the US government announced that it had vacated the Bagram Air Base, effectively completing its military operation in the landlocked Afghanistan a couple of months before the official end date of 11 September, announced by the newly-elected US President Joe Biden earlier this year.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is more than 90 percent complete, the Pentagon’s Central Command said on Tuesday. When asked by the Associated Press about the late night withdrawal from the Bagram Air Base, the US military spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett referred to a statement issued last week that said that US forces had coordinated their departure from various bases with the Afghan leaders.

Taliban ‘Preparing To Take Over Bagram Air Base’

After the late night withdrawal by the US troops, control of the Bagram Air Base has fallen into the hands of a much less well-equipped force that could struggle to defend it from the Taliban, who have made swift advances across the country in recent weeks, seizing rural districts and surrounding some larger cities of the poverty stricken Afghanistan.

General Kohistani says he has roughly 3,000 troops under his command and this number is significantly less than the tens of thousands of US and allied soldiers who once occupied the Bagram Air Base and effectively kept the Taliban away. As the Taliban have been advancing rapidly in Afghanistan amid withdrawal of US troops, General Kohistani said on Monday that Afghan forces were expecting the Taliban to attack the Bagram Air Base.

Speaking to reporters at the airbase, General Kohistani said he was receiving reports that the group was making “movements in rural areas” surrounding the air base. “You know, if we compare ourselves with the Americans, it’s a big difference,” Gen Kohistani said. “But according to our capabilities… we are trying to do the best and as much as possible to secure and serve all the people.”

The Taliban took over 10 new districts last weekend and now they claim to have secured the control over 85 percent of the Afghan territory. Despite movement on the ground, the stalled peace talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government were renewed last week in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan
An Afghan army soldier surveys belongings left by the US military when it departed Bagram Air Base.–File photo

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told the BBC that they would present a peace plan to the team negotiating on behalf of the Afghan government and both sides would discuss it. The Taliban and Afghan government officials met in Tehran this week and vowed to sort out all issues peacefully, according to the state-run Radio Pakistan.

Earlier this week, about 1,000 Afghan soldiers fighting the Taliban in the north of the country fled over the border into Tajikistan, raising fears over the Afghan military’s ability to stave off further advances by the group, which has grown considerably strong after fighting a long-drawn war against the sole Super Power of the world, which has a mighty army quipped with the world’s best intelligence, weapons, air force, technology and war planning.

The Cost Of US War In Afghanistan

The United States has spent $2.26 trillion on the war in Afghanistan so far, according to the Costs of War project. The US Defence Department’s latest 2020 report released on April 30, 2021 said the war-fighting costs totalled $815.7 billion over the years. Despite this spending, the future of Afghanistan hangs in balance and the Afghan nation remains completely uncertain about the future of the country and its next generations.

A Replay Of Soviet Exit As US Troops Leave Afghanistan

The Bagram Air Base was built by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and it became the invading country’s main base in the 1980s as it defended its occupation of Afghanistan. It was later occupied by the Moscow-backed Afghan government and then a Mujahideen administration, before eventually winding up in Taliban hands when the group swept to power in the mid-1990s.

When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it deposed the Taliban rulers, took control of the air base and transformed it into a sprawling complex from which it fought its war against the group for almost two decades.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore.

4 thoughts on “The late night withdrawal: What happened inside Bagram Air Base after US Army left?

  1. Nice, detailed and well-written!
    It definitely seemed as a replay of Soviet exit from Afghanistan. The interesting part is the way Americans left it showed their lack of interest in handing over power to the Afghan government leaving a power vacuum. Leaving Afghanistan in the middle of night quietly raises question on the very so called objectives of the super power.

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