BAGRAM, Afghanistan – The United States left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years cutting off the power and slipping away into the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, who found out about the Americans leaving more than two hours after their departure, Afghan military officials said.
The Afghan military unveiled the sprawling airbase on Monday, offering a rare first glimpse of what had been the epicenter of the US war to overthrow the Taliban and track down the al Qaeda perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on it. America.
The United States announced on Friday that it had completely left its largest airfield in the country before a final withdrawal which the Pentagon said will be completed by the end of August.
“We (heard) a rumor that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally at seven in the morning we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” General Mir Asadullah Kohistani said. , new commander of Bagram. mentionned.
US Army spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett did not address the specific complaints of many Afghan soldiers who inherited the abandoned airfield, instead referring to a statement last week.
The statement said the transfer was underway shortly after President Joe Biden announced in mid-April that America was withdrawing the last of its forces. Leggett said in the statement that they had coordinated their departures with the Afghan leadership.
Before the Afghan army could take control of the airfield about an hour’s drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, it was overrun by a small army of looters, who ransacked barracks after barracks and searched in tents of giant storage before being deported, according to Afghan military officials.
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“At first we thought maybe it was the Taliban,” said Abdul Raouf, a 10-year-old soldier. He said the United States called from Kabul airport and said “we are here at Kabul airport”.
Kohistani insisted that the Afghan national security and defense forces could keep the heavily fortified base despite a series of Taliban victories on the battlefield. The airfield also includes a prison with around 5,000 prisoners, many of whom are believed to be Taliban.
The latest wave of the Taliban comes as the last US and NATO forces withdraw from the country. Since last week, most of the NATO troops had already quietly departed. The last American soldiers are expected to stay until an agreement to protect Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport is reached.
Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan, district after district fell to the Taliban. In the past two days alone, hundreds of Afghan soldiers have crossed the border into Tajikistan rather than fighting the insurgents.
“In combat, sometimes it’s a step forward and a few steps back,” Kohistani said.
Kohistani said the Afghan army was changing its strategy to focus on strategic districts. He insisted they would resume them in the next few days without saying how it would be accomplished.
Last Monday was on display a massive facility, the size of a small town, which had been used exclusively by the United States and NATO. The size is extraordinary, with roads winding through barracks and hangar-like buildings. There are two runways and over 100 parking spaces for fighter jets known as coatings due to the blast walls that protect each plane. One of the two runways is 12,000 feet long and was built in 2006. There is a passenger lounge, a 50-bed hospital, and giant hangar-sized tents filled with supplies such as furniture.
Kohistani said the United States left 3.5 million items, all itemized by the outgoing U.S. military. They include tens of thousands of bottles of water, energy drinks, and dishes prepared by the military, known as MREs.
“When you say 3.5 million items, it’s every little item, like every phone, every doorknob, every window in every barracks, every door in every barracks,” he said.
Big-ticket items left behind include thousands of civilian vehicles, many without a key to start them, and hundreds of armored vehicles. Kohistani said the United States also left small arms and ammunition behind, but departing troops took heavy weapons. Ammunition for weapons not left with the Afghan army was destroyed prior to their departure.
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Afghan soldiers who wandered around the base that once hosted up to 100,000 US troops on Monday strongly criticized the way the US left Bagram, leaving overnight without notifying the Afghan soldiers tasked with patrolling the area. perimeter.
“In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving as they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were patrolling outside the area,” said the Afghan soldier. Naematullah, who requested that his name alone be used. .
Less than 20 minutes after the silent departure from the United States on Friday, power was cut and the base was plunged into darkness, said Raouf, the 10-year-old soldier who also served in Taliban strongholds in the provinces. from Helmand and Kandahar.
The sudden darkness was like a signal to the small army of looters, he said. They entered from the north by smashing the first barrier, ransacking buildings, loading everything that was not nailed into trucks.
On Monday, three days after leaving the United States, Afghan soldiers were still picking up garbage piles that included empty water bottles, cans and empty energy drinks left by looters.
Kohistani meanwhile said the nearly 20 years of U.S. and NATO involvement in Afghanistan were appreciated, but now was the time for the Afghans to step up their efforts.
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“We have to solve our problem. We have to secure our country and rebuild our country again with our own hands,” he said.
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