Afghanistan bore witness to a watershed development when the last Nato and US forces left the key airbase in Bagram on Friday. The pullout signals that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is imminent. Not the least in the context of President Joe Biden’s statement that US forces will be gone by September 11.
That said, it needs to be underlined that the withdrawal from the sprawling base, north of Kabul, has happened in parallel to the Taliban advancing in many parts of Afghanistan. On the face of it, the pullout from Bagram is of tremendous importance as the nervecentre has been at the heart of a war for the past 20 years.
“I want to talk about happy things,” President Biden is reported to have said on Friday. America now wants to end its longest war with its huge cost in human lives and vast expense, and is leaving security to the Afghan government. Some 2,5003,500 US troops were thought to be still in Afghanistan until recently.
As of May this year, there were about 7,000 other coalition troops in Afghanistan but it is believed that most have now left, with Germany and Italy declaring their missions over on Wednesday. A resurgent Taliban, buoyed by the expectation of the foreign withdrawal, has overrun dozens of districts, amid fears that a new civil war could erupt after the departure of foreign forces.
The outlook, therefore, is bleak even at the mildest estimation. Bagram, once a stronghold of Soviet forces, was the symbol of American military might. Afghanistan’s security forces will soon confront the challenge of securing this sprawling city within a city.
Bagram is vital ~ in symbolic and strategic ways. Taliban fighters, advancing in districts across the country, have this prize in their sights. Even last October, residents of the town said Taliban militants were present in their midst. In the perspective of Afghan security forces, the US withdrawal is a mixed blessing.
There is said to be a wealth of military assets within its walls; but that treasure is a primary target for Taliban, not to mention corrupt commanders and others with an eye on the fortune. President Biden said he wanted to celebrate the 4 July holiday weekend, adding that “all across America people are going to ball games and doing good things”, and he would instead answer the “negative questions” of the media next week.
His spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said at a daily press briefing: “We expect the withdrawal to be completed by the end of August.” Bagram was one of the sites identified in a US Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation of Al Qaida suspects, including the use of torture, carried out in detention facilities. Afghanistan now prepares for a different kind of ordeal.