KABUL: All US and Nato troops have left the biggest air base in Afghanistan, a US defence official said on Friday, signalling the complete withdrawal of foreign forces was imminent after two decades of war.
Bagram Air Base served as the linchpin for US operations in the rugged country, where the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda was fought with air strikes and resupply missions from the airfield.
“All coalition forces are off Bagram,” an official told a news agency, without specifying when the last foreign troops left the base and when it would be officially handed over to Afghan forces,
Afghan Ministry of Defence Spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said government authorities were “fully prepared” to take over the base. The US military and Nato are in the final stages of winding up involvement in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have launched relentless offensives across Afghanistan in the past two months, and taken dozens of districts under control as Afghan security forces have largely consolidated their power in the major urban areas.
The ability of Afghan forces to maintain control of Bagram airfield will likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban. Media reports say the Pentagon will probably retain about 600 US troops in Afghanistan to guard the vast US diplomatic compound in Kabul.
Over the years the base has been visited by hundreds of thousands of US and Nato service members and contractors. At one point it boasted swimming pools, cinemas and spas and even a boardwalk featuring fast food outlets such as Burger King and Pizza Hut. The base also housed a prison that held thousands of inmates.
Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in the north. Ironically, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the Red Army expanded it significantly during its near-decade-long occupation.
When Moscow pulled out, Bagram became central to the raging civil war — it was reported that at one point the Taliban controlled one end of the 3km runway and the opposition Northern Alliance the other.
In recent months, Bagram has come under rocket barrages claimed by the militant Islamic State, stirring fears that militants are already eyeing the base for future attacks. As of May 2021, there were about 9,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan, of which US troops made up the largest contingent of 2,500. So far Germany and Italy have both confirmed the full withdrawal of their contingents.