US military leaves Bagram airfield in major step in Afghan withdrawal from Biden
KABUL – US forces evacuated Afghan airbase from Bagram, once a bustling mini-town that housed more than 100,000 American soldiers as well as NATO forces, a senior US official told NBC News on Friday.
The official, who has direct knowledge of the pullout, spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity as the decision has yet to be officially announced.
The move is a brutal statement of intent on the part of President Joe Biden’s administration and an indication that the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops have left or are about to leave the country, months before the date. September 11 limit.
Pentagon officials were not immediately available for comment on the news. NATO officials referred NBC News to US officials.
Officials in the US-backed Afghan government, which relies heavily on foreign support, especially in the face of ongoing Taliban victories across the country, did not immediately react to the news.
Two US officials told The Associated Press that the airfield had been turned over in full to the Afghan national security and defense forces.
The administrator of the Afghan district of Bagram, Darwaish Raufi, told the PA that the American departure took place overnight without coordination with local authorities, and that as a result, on Friday morning, dozens of looters took to the streets. burst through the unprotected doors.
The United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001 after the group sheltered Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. The United States-led international mission was once full of promise, with armies and governments around the world coming together in the wake of the devastating attack on the United States and promising a better future for the war-torn country. war.
Nearly 20 years and billions of civilian and military aid workers later, some wonder if Afghanistan, one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world, is doing much better.
The longest war in the United States claimed the lives of approximately 2,300 American soldiers and injured thousands. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since the start of the conflict.
The country ranks among the worst places in the world to be born a woman, with high infant and maternal mortality rates. Millions of children, especially girls, are out of school and the country’s government is widely seen to be rife with corruption.
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But many in Afghanistan and in the international community see a return of the Taliban as catastrophic for Afghan women, who under the militant regime were banned from going to school and whipped and stoned for adultery. Over the past two decades, a generation of Afghan women and girls have flocked to schools and many in urban centers have been able to go to work outside the home.
Bagram’s exit is a major step in the context of a broader withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. In 2020, former President Donald Trump vowed that all US forces would leave the country by May. In a similar attempt to end America’s so-called “eternal wars”, Biden vowed that American troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11.
At its peak around 2012, Bagram Airfield saw more than 100,000 US troops pass through its sprawling compound about an hour’s drive north of the capital, Kabul.
The departure is loaded with symbolism. This is the second time that an invading army has passed through the base, after the Soviet Union built the facility in the 1950s. The Soviets withdrew from the country in 1989.
When the United States and NATO inherited Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins and largely abandoned.
In response to the US withdrawal from Bagram, members of the Afghan Taliban told NBC News on Friday that pending official announcement of the decision, the exit was “the result of our sacrifices.”
The militants, however, had no immediate plans to attempt to capture the base, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added.
Earlier this week, the highest U.S. general in Afghanistan gave a sobering assessment of the country’s deteriorating security situation as America ends its presence.
Gen. Austin S. Miller said Tuesday the rapid loss of districts across the country to the Taliban was worrying. He also warned that militias deployed to help national security forces could drag the country into civil war.
“A civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the course it is currently on, that should be of concern to the world,” Miller said.
Some US troops will remain in Afghanistan, largely to protect the sprawling embassy in Kabul and possibly the international airport, according to the State Department.
Richard Engel and Marc Smith reported from Kabul, Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Adela Suliman reported from London.
Mushtaq Yusufzai contributed.