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Coalition forces exit Bagram; Has Afghanistan been left to fend for itself?

The Bagram Air Base, located 50 km north of Kabul, served as the key base for US operation in the country as part of the 'War on Terror'. American forces fought long against the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies using airstrikes and resupply missions from the airfield. 

Coalition forces exit Bagram Has Afghanistan been left to fend for itself-VPN
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Bagram, First Published Jul 2, 2021, 7:13 PM IST
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American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops have left Bagram, their biggest airbase in Afghanistan, which signals the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country after twenty years of war. 

The Bagram Air Base, located 50 km north of Kabul, served as the key base for US operation in the country as part of the 'War on Terror'. American forces fought long against the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies using airstrikes and resupply missions from the airfield. 

The US defence official reported, "All coalition forces are off Bagram." 

Whilst requesting anonymity, the official did not specify when the last foreign troops left the base. He did not give clarity on when the base would be officially handed over to Afghan forces. But Afghanistan's defence ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said that the government authorities were 'fully prepared' to control the base. 

The US military and NATO are in the final stages of finishing their involvement in Afghanistan and will be bringing home an unknown number of remaining troops by September 11.

The ability of Afghan forces to maintain control of the critical airfield will be pivotal in maintaining security in Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.

The Taliban has launched multiple offensives across the country in the past two months and has taken over several districts. The Afghan security forces have primarily held power in the country's major urban areas. 

Nishank Motwani, the Australia-based Afghanistan expert, said that the exit of these foreign forces from the key base symbolises that Afghanistan is alone, abandoned, and left to defend itself against the Taliban's onslaught. 

He further said that having reached home, Americans and allied forces will now watch what they fought so hard to build over 20 years burn down from afar and knowing that the Afghan men and women they fought with risk losing everything.

The media has reported that the Pentagon will perhaps retain close to 600 troops in Afghanistan to guard the US diplomatic compound in Kabul. 

Residents of Bagram have said that security will only deteriorate with the exit of foreign forces. 

Over the past two decades, the city has been visited by many service members and contractors belonging to the US and NATO. At a particular point, the city had swimming pools, cinemas, spas, along with a boardwalk that featured Burger King and Pizza Hut. The base also housed a prison that held thousands of Taliban and jihadist inmates.

The Bagram base was built by the United States for Afghanistan during the Cold War in the 1950s as a defensive wall against the Soviet Union in the north. Still, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the Red Army contributed to its expansion significantly during its almost decade long occupation. 

When the Soviet occupation ended, the base became central to a civil war, and it was reported that at one point, the Taliban controlled one end of the 3 km runway while the Northern Alliance controlled the other end. 

In May 2021, there close to 9500 foreign troops in Afghanistan, out of which 2500 were American. Germany and Italy have both confirmed the complete withdrawal of their forces. In the past few months, Bagram has faced attacks from rockets claimed by the terrorist outfit Islamic State. This has raised fears that terrorists had an eye on the base for future attacks.

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