U.S. leaves its last Afghan base, effectively ending operations
Islam News – U.S. troops and their Western allies have departed the U.S. military base that coordinated the sprawling war in Afghanistan, officials said Friday, effectively ending major U.S. military operations in the country after nearly two decades.
For generations of U.S. service members, the military hub, Bagram Airfield, was a gateway to and from a war that cut across constant changes on the battlefield and in presidential administrations. But the final withdrawal overnight Thursday occurred with little fanfare and no public ceremony, and in an atmosphere of grave concern over the Afghan security forces’ ability to hold off Taliban advances across the country.
The U.S. exit was completed quickly enough that some looters managed to get into the base before being arrested, Afghan officials said.
The quiet leave-taking from the base weeks before the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in mid-July, and months before President Joe Biden’s announced Sept. 11 departure, highlights Washington’s efforts to signal two different messages: one to the U.S. public that its longest foreign war is ending, and another to the Afghan government that the United States is not abandoning the country in the middle of a Taliban offensive, and would retain some ability to conduct airstrikes if need be.
“We are on track, exactly where we expected to be,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.
The fear that Kabul could fall to the Taliban relatively soon haunted the administration’s debate over the decision to pull out of the country. But Biden suggested that even though the United States still retained the ability to conduct airstrikes if things went bad, no reversal of the withdrawal was on the table.
“We have worked out an over-the-horizon capacity,” he said, talking about air assets based in other places, “but the Afghans are going to have to do it themselves with the air force they have.”
Bagram was operating at full capacity until the end Thursday. Fighter jets, cargo planes and surveillance aircraft relied on the twin runways until it was no longer feasible to keep them in the country.
Now air support for the Afghan forces and overhead surveillance will be flown in from outside the country, from bases in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates or from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea. A contingent of 650 troops will remain to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the capital. How long that type of support will continue is unclear, but the Pentagon has until Sept. 11 — when the U.S. military mission is supposed to formally conclude — to decide.
Some U.S. intelligence estimates predict that the Afghan government could fall to its rivals, the Taliban, from six months to two years after the U.S. completes its withdrawal. The Taliban are inching closer to Kabul after having taken about a quarter of the country’s districts in the past two months.
Hundreds of members of the Afghan security forces have surrendered in recent weeks, while their counterattacks have taken back little territory from the Taliban. And as the Afghan forces fracture, regional militias have appeared with renewed prominence, in an echo of the country’s path toward civil war in the 1990s.
Source: The New York Times