It’s imminent: after nearly 20 years we to leave Bagram. Ba Gram, Afghanistan – For nearly two decades, Ba Gram Airfield has been the center of US military power in Afghanistan, a huge miniature city behind a fence and blasting wall about an hour’s drive north of Kabul.
It first symbolized America’s drive to avenge the 9/11 attacks, and later its struggle to get through the war with the Taliban. In just a few days, the last American troops will leave Bagram. They are leaving what is considered mixed heritage by everyone connected to the base, perhaps American or Afghan.
“Bagram, like other bases in Afghanistan and even Iraq, has grown into a large military installation that has symbolized and typified the phrase ‘mission creep’,” said Andrew Watkins, Afghanistan Chief Analyst for International Crisis in Brussels. group.
U.S. Central Command said last week that the Bagram packaging is well past 50% and the rest is progressing rapidly. U.S. officials said the withdrawal of all U.S. forces would be fully completed by July 4. Afghan forces will then capture Bagram as part of their ongoing fight against the Taliban. eruption of chaos.
Departure is full of symbolism. In particular, it is the second time an Afghan invader has passed through Bagram.
The USSR built an airfield in the 1950s. When Afghanistan was invaded in 1979 to support the communist government, Afghanistan made it a major base to defend against state occupation. The Soviets fought the US-backed Mujahideen, dubbed the freedom fighter by President Ronald Reagan for a decade. He saw them as front-line troops in one of the last Cold War battles.
The Soviet Union negotiated a withdrawal in 1989. Three years later, the pro-Moscow government collapsed, and the mujahideen seized power, turned on each other’s weapons, and killed thousands of civilians. The chaos set up the Taliban, which took control of Kabul in 1996.
When the United States and NATO took over Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins, a collection of destroyed buildings, and most of the fences surrounding it were destroyed. Abandoned after being assaulted in a battle between the Taliban and rival Mujahideen warlords fleeing to their northern territories.
After withdrawing the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition worked with the Generals’ Alliance to begin rebuilding Bagram. Its growth was explosive and eventually swallowed up about 30 square miles. “Bagram’s closure is a major symbolic and strategic victory for the Taliban,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
“If the Taliban can take control of the base, it will act as an anti-American. It will feed propaganda 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 huge base has two runways. The most recent 12,000 feet long was built in 2006 for $96 million. The 110 shores, which are basically aircraft parking spaces, are protected by explosion-proof walls. Security think tank GlobalSecurity says Bagram has three large hangars, a control tower, and numerous support buildings.
The base has a 50-bed hospital with Trauma Bay, three operating rooms, and a modern dental clinic. There is also a fitness center and fast food restaurant. Another section houses the prison, which is infamous and feared among Afghans. Jonathan Schroeder of CNA, a US-based research and analysis agency, estimates that over 100,000 people have spent significant time at Bagram over the past 20 years.
“Bagram has formed the basis of the wartime experience of a significant portion of the US military and contractors who have served in Afghanistan,” said Schroder, director of the CNA’s Center for Stability and Development. “The last US troops leaving there will be the last page for many regarding their time in the country,” he said.
For Afghans in the Bagram region, an area with more than 100 villages supported by orchards and cropland, the base was a major supplier of employment. The US withdrawal will affect almost every household, said district governor Darwaish Raufi.
Americans are providing weapons and other materials to the Afghan army. Others they don’t have are destroying them and selling them to scrap dealers around Bagram. U.S. officials say they must ensure that nothing available falls into the Taliban’s hands.
Last week, the U.S. Central Command said it had scrapped 14,790 units and sent 763 C-17 aircraft from Afghanistan. Bagram villagers say they hear explosions inside the base. It seems Americans are destroying buildings and materials.
Raufi said many villagers complained about America, leaving only trash behind.
“There is something sadly symbolic about how America left Bagram. Michael Kugelman, deputy director of Asian programs at the Wilson Center in the United States, said the decision to take so much away and destroy what’s left represents an urgency for America to get out of here quickly.
“It’s not the friendliest parting gift for the Afghans, including the Afghans taking the base,” he said. Comparisons with the former Soviet Union inevitably occurred. Saiful Safi, a retired Afghan general who worked with US forces in Bagram, said he left all his equipment when Soviet troops withdrew. They said they “didn’t bring them much, only the vehicles they needed to transport the soldiers back to Russia.”
The base’s prison was handed over to Afghanistan in 2012 and will continue to operate. In the early days of the war, for many Afghans, Ba Gram became synonymous with the horrors by the Gulf of Guantanamo. Parents threatened crying children in prison.
At the beginning of the invasion, Afghans often disappeared for months with no reports of their whereabouts until the International Red Cross commission placed them in Bagram. Some returned home with stories of torture.
“When someone mentions the word Bagram, you hear the screams of pain from prison,” said Zabihullah, who spent six years at Bagram on charges of belonging to a faction of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who at the time was nominated as a terrorist in the United States. In the case of his arrest, belonging to Hekmatiar’s party was an offense.
One-named Zabihullah was released in 2020, four years after President Ashraf Ghani signed a peace treaty with Hekmatyar. Roggio said the prison’s status was “a major concern,” noting that many inmates were known Taliban leaders or members of armed groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups.
It is estimated that about 7,000 inmates are still in prison. “If the bases fall and the prisons fall, these inmates can strengthen the ranks of this terrorist group,” Roggio said.