Asia

Bagram: Last US and Nato forces leave key Afghanistan base

The last US and Nato forces have left Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase, the centre of the war against militants for some 20 years.

The pull-out could signal that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is imminent.

President Joe Biden has said US forces will be gone by 11 September.

But the withdrawal from the sprawling base, north of Kabul, comes as the main jihadist group, the Taliban, advances in many parts of Afghanistan.

The 11 September deadline is the anniversary of the attacks on America in 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

The attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, an international jihadist group then based in Afghanistan with the support of the Taliban, who had been in control of the country since the 1990s. A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan later that year to defeat both groups.

America now wants to end its longest war with its huge cost in human lives and vast expense, and is leaving security to the Afghan government.

Some 2,500-3,500 US troops were thought to be still in Afghanistan until recently and when they depart, fewer than 1,000 American soldiers will remain. As of May there were about 7,000 other coalition troops in Afghanistan but it is believed that most have now left, with Germany and Italy declaring their missions over on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a resurgent Taliban, buoyed by the expectation of the foreign withdrawal, has overrun dozens of districts, amid fears that a new civil war could erupt after the departure of foreign forces.

Bagram is a bellwether of what’s to come. This symbol of American military might was once a stronghold of Soviet forces. Now Afghan security forces will soon confront the challenge of securing this sprawling city within a city.

Bagram is vital – in symbolic and strategic ways. Taliban fighters, advancing in districts across the country, have this prize in their sights. Even last October, residents of the town which has swelled all around it told us the Taliban were already in their midst.

On a recent visit to the base, as the US packed up, we heard how Afghan security forces saw it as a mixed blessing. There’s a wealth of military assets within its walls; but that treasure is a top target for Taliban, not to mention corrupt commanders and others eying this fortune.

For the countless Afghans whose lives and livelihoods have long banked on this base – and who now feel abandoned – Bagram’s new chapter is deeply worrying.

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https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-57692303