Afghanistan: all US forces have left Bagram air base as US withdrawal comes to an end
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.
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.
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 out 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.
Afghan reaction to the departure of American troops
Sayed Reja, a 30-year-old employee in Kabul for a logistics company, told CNN that US troops “shouldn’t be leaving so soon.”
“They could have stayed longer until the Afghan government was standing. But now they are gone and we cannot prevent them from leaving Afghanistan,” he said.
He said the Afghans must “work together to rebuild the country – if that happens naturally, the departure of troops is a good thing.”
“First of all, it is the decision of the United States, we have to respect that it is their decision,” said Ilyas, a 30-year-old man in Kabul who refused to give his last name to CNN.
“But for the Afghans it is a very big problem, now the war between the Afghan government and the Taliban will be worse,” he said. “The Taliban have reached the border of the cities, and this is a big problem. Now the Afghans are afraid for our future and they are worried about what the future holds.
Ilyas, who said he worked for the US government in Afghanistan, told CNN he hoped the US government would continue to support the Afghan government and its people.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Nick Thompson Masood Hossaini and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.