U.S. military hands over Bagram Air Base to Afghan security forces after 20 years of war


Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bagram U.S. air base, on the day the last of American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021.

Mohammad Ismail | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military quietly departed Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Friday, a historic milestone following President Joe Biden’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from the war-weary country.

Two U.S. officials told NBC News, on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been officially announced, that the U.S. handed over the once-stalwart airbase to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force.

In 2012, at its peak, Bagram saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops pass through. It was the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

Biden announced in April the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 of this year, effectively ending America’s longest war.

“Look, we were in that war for 20 years — 20 years,” Biden told reporters on Friday when asked about the drawdown in Afghanistan.

“I think they [Afghan leaders] have the capacity to be able to sustain the government. There is going to have to be, down the road, more negotiations, I suspect,” Biden said, adding, “the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves.”

US President Joe Biden speaks on the June jobs report in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, DC on July 2, 2021.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

In April, the White House confirmed that U.S. troops had begun the withdrawal process from Afghanistan and that the Pentagon deployed additional troops and military equipment to protect forces in the region during the withdrawal.

“Potential adversaries should know that if they attack us in our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves, [and] our partners, with all the tools at our disposal,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in April traveling on Air Force One.

“While these actions will initially result in increased forces levels, we remain committed to having all U.S. military personnel out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021,” she said, adding that the Biden administration is intent on a “safe and responsible” exit from the war-torn country.

The removal of approximately 3,000 U.S. service members coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Afghanistan’s district administrator for Bagram told The Associated Press that the U.S. departure happened overnight and without coordination with local officials. As a result, dozens of looters stormed through the unprotected gates.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called Friday’s departure from Bagram “a positive step” and told NBC News that “for now” the Taliban does not plan on seizing the sprawling airbase, which is located some 40 miles north of Kabul.

U.S. Army soldiers and contractors load High Mobility Multi-purposed Wheeled Vehicles, HUMVs, to be sent for transport as U.S. forces prepare for withdrawl, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 13, 2020.

US Army | via Reuters

American forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the group harbored Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders who carried out the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Two years later, U.S. troops invaded Iraq, a move aimed at removing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Twenty years later, America’s longest war has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops and left thousands more wounded. More than 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have been killed or wounded since the conflict began.





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