After nearly 20 years, the US military left Bagram Airfield, the epicenter of its war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, two US officials said Friday. The airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety, they said on condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to release the information to the media. One of the officials also said the US top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces." More:
- 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 Biden's promise that they would be gone by Sept. 11, the AP reports. Most NATO soldiers have already quietly exited as of this week. At its peak, Bagram Airfield saw more than 100,000 US troops pass through its sprawling compound.
- Announcements from several countries analyzed by the AP show that a majority of European troops have 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 US invasion in 2001.
- The US has refused to say when the last US soldier would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns, but also the protection of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport is still being negotiated. Turkish and US soldiers currently are protecting the airport 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 US, the Resolute Support mission would appear to have to continue in order to give international troops the legal authority.
- The departure is rife with symbolism. Not least, it's the second time that an invader of Afghanistan has come and gone through Bagram. 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. 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.
(More on the departure, and Bagram's history, here