Afghanistan: all US forces have left Bagram air base as US withdrawal comes to an end

Almost two decades after the first American troops arrived in Bagram and helped take control of the land after the 9/11 attacks, the handover of the land to the Afghan army went without fanfare, a muted final that portends the imminent conclusion of America’s longest war. .

Once a dilapidated runway that barely had electricity in the surrounding buildings, the airfield has grown into a small town in its own right, with shops, gymnasiums and classrooms for the thousands of servicemen and contractors who worked on the base and its facilities.

The three-kilometer runway, streaked with dark black tire tracks from countless takeoffs and landings, was the starting point for military operations across the country, with space for cargo planes, fighter jets and helicopters. attack. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all visited Bagram during their tenure, promising victory and a better future for Afghanistan.

Bagram was officially handed over to the Afghan army on Friday, Rohullah Ahamadzai, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, told CNN.

But Bagram’s withdrawal, devoid of any pomp, is a symbolic victory for the Taliban, who have waged a fierce battle across the country against the Afghan army, pushing back government forces and invading a growing number of districts.

A Taliban spokesman called the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan “a positive step.”

“The presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan was one reason for the continuing fighting in the country,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahid told CNN on Friday. “If the foreign forces leave Afghanistan, the Afghans can decide between themselves on future problems. We will advance for the security of the country and our hope for peace will increase and inchallah, we will have development.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, saying the United States was invested in “the security and stability of Afghanistan” as the withdrawal affected its end.

Bagram was the entry point for tens of thousands of soldiers who entered the country as part of the war on terror, and it was the exit point for most of the nearly 2,000 U.S. servicemen killed in fighting for 20 years of fighting. The troops stood on the main road through the air base, known as Disney Drive, as the flag-draped coffins of servicemen killed in Afghanistan passed en route to the flight line for their last return trip.

For years, the base has been the target of numerous Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks. In the end, it was not violence that led to the exit of the United States, but diplomacy. The Pentagon had reduced the troop presence in Afghanistan for years, but the Doha deal, signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban in Qatar in February 2020, marked the beginning of the end. As of mid-2011, there were nearly 100,000 US troops in the country and 35,000 other US contractors. A decade later, that number had dropped to 2,500 soldiers and 18,000 contractors.

The Biden administration made it clear that the last remaining troops would be out by 9/11 at the latest, but as the withdrawal progressed it became clear that they would be ours much sooner.

In the final days of the U.S. withdrawal, crews loaded shipping crates onto cargo planes, loading the last of what was deemed valuable enough to be evacuated from the country. On Tuesday, the US Central Command, which oversees Afghanistan, said it had pulled the equivalent of nearly 900 C-17 cargoes out of Afghanistan and destroyed nearly 16,000 pieces of equipment.

Two planes carrying US and coalition forces and equipment left the base Thursday evening, an Afghan army source said.

A third plane left the base early Friday morning, the source told CNN.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Barbara Starr of CNN contributed to this report.

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