The Slatest

U.S. Military Hands Over Bagram Air Base to Afghan Forces

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard at Bagram Air Base.
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard at Bagram Air Base, after the departure of all U.S. and NATO troops. ZAKERIA HASHIMI/Getty Images

U.S. forces handed over control of Bagram air base to the Afghan military, a move rife with symbolism and consequence, as the American drawdown of forces in the country continues. The handover of the base, which sits 45 miles north of Kabul, indicates the withdrawal of U.S. forces will surely be complete well before President Joe Biden’s September 11th deadline and, officials say, could be complete within days. The handover of Bagram, which served as the U.S. hub for its offensive in Afghanistan, comes at an uncertain time in the country as the security situation continues to deteriorate. Taliban advances throughout the country, coupled with the U.S. withdrawal, have raised concerns about civil war nearly two decades after American forces attacked the Taliban regime that was in power at the time.

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Bagram became an entry point for thousands of American troops engaged in the U.S.-declared War on Terror in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The history of the base in many ways embodies the failure of foreign conquests in the country and, after the Americans took over, the staggering scale of the modern American military machine. “With a line of snow-capped mountains as its backdrop, the Bagram airfield was built in the 1950s by the Soviet Union. It became a vital military hub during the Soviets’ 10-year occupation of Afghanistan. After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the Taliban and what was known as the Northern Alliance fought for the base, sometimes with their trenches at either end,” the Washington Post notes. “By 2011, at the height of the American war, the base had ballooned into a small city, with two runaways, tens of thousands of occupants, shops and a U.S. military prison that became notorious for its use as a C.I.A. black site.”

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The handover of the lynchpin of the U.S. and allied military effort is an indication the end is near for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan after years of dwindling troop numbers. A decade ago, there were almost 100,000 American troops and tens of thousands of U.S. contractors stationed in the country, a presence that had been scaled back to 2,500 troops this year. At the end of the withdrawal process, the U.S. presence on the ground will consist of some 650 forces to protect the American embassy in Kabul. Over the course of the conflict, 2,400 American troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded. Tens of thousands Afghan forces died in battle, but Afghan civilians have carried the biggest burden with 47,245 dying during the two-decade long war.

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