US troops quietly left Bagram air base without informing Afghan commander

After US forces withdrew without informing them, Afghan soldiers guarding Bagram Air Force Base are left with thousands of Taliban prisoners and fear that the enemy will attack.

The sprawling military complex about 60 kilometers north of the capital, Kabul, was at one point home to tens of thousands of US and Allied soldiers, and one of the key military sites of the two-decade war in Afghanistan.

But the last US soldiers quietly left the base last week, effectively completing their withdrawal from Afghanistan and leaving a huge security vacuum that the Afghan military will struggle to fill.

The new commander of the Bagram base, General Mirassadullah Kohistani, spoke candidly on Monday about the challenges ahead, as reporters were given a tour of the largely abandoned base.

“You know, when we compare ourselves to the Americans, it’s a big difference,” Kohistani said, admitting his troops couldn’t be as “powerful” as the Americans.

“But according to our capabilities … we try to do the best and as much as possible to secure and serve all people.”

The lack of a clear transfer or transition plan seems to have made the task even more challenging.

Kohistani said he was not aware of the departure of the foreign troops until after they left.

“We didn’t know about their departure time. They didn’t tell us when they were leaving.”

The US announced Friday that it had completely cleared its largest airport in the country pending a final withdrawal that the Pentagon said will be completed by the end of August.

“We [heard] a rumor that the Americans had left Bagram… and finally at 7:00 AM we understood that it had been confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” Kohistani said.

Rotting food where restaurants were once crowded

The Bagram base is key to the security of the Afghan capital and also provides strategic cover for much of the rugged north of the country, where the Taliban have concentrated their recent offensives.

Kohistani insists his troops can stop the Taliban base and that he has “enough” soldiers.

But with about 3,000 troops under his command, this is a small percentage of the number of U.S. and allied troops during its heyday under the leadership of the U.S.

For American troops, morale remained high in the then bustling mini-city of swimming pools, movie theaters, spas and fast-food restaurants such as Burger King and Pizza Hut.

For Kohistani’s men, nightspots are closed, warehouses locked, and the shuttered eatery offers only the stench of rotten food from boxes of expired meal packs.

Reflecting the challenges the Afghan military faces without US support, 1,000 troops fighting the Taliban in the north of the country fled to neighboring Tajikistan on Monday.

Taliban ‘will certainly try to attack here’

In Bagram, Kohistani said he was already receiving reports that the Taliban were “moving into rural areas”.

One soldier, a soldier named Rafiullah, offered a clear picture of what he expected to come.

“The enemy is determined and will certainly try to attack here,” Rafiullah said as two Afghan military helicopters took off behind him.

“But we won’t give them that chance.”

If and when the Taliban launch an offensive to take Bagram, one of their targets will undoubtedly be a massive prison that can hold 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

“We didn’t come here to sleep. Everyone here is prepared to secure Bagram. Our morale is high,” Rafiullah insisted.

Another soldier also defiantly said he was ready to fight the Taliban, but nevertheless expressed a sense of unease at a lack of firepower and leadership.

“We will not surrender, but we need weapons and strong support from our leaders,” he said.

Witnessing history since the beginning of the Cold War

If the Taliban seize control of Bagram, it will be part of a long-standing pattern. The airport was first built by the Americans for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s.

The Soviet Union greatly expanded it after the Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979. After their withdrawal, the base was controlled by the Moscow-backed government and later by the shaky mujahideen administration during the civil war of the 1990s.

It was reported that at one point the Taliban controlled one end of the two-mile runway and the opposition Northern Alliance the other.

Bagram eventually fell into the hands of the Taliban after they conquered large parts of the country in the mid-1990s.

After the September 11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Americans took control of the base and used it as a launching pad for airstrikes against the Taliban and to protect Afghan troops.

( Jowharwith AFP and AP)

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More