KABUL: All US and NATO troops have left the biggest air base in Afghanistan, a US defence official told AFP Friday, signalling the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country after two decades of war was imminent.
Bagram Air Base served as the linchpin for US operations in the rugged country, where the long war against the Afghan Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies was fought with air strikes and resupply missions from the airfield.
“All coalition forces are off Bagram,” said the official — who asked not to be identified — without specifying when the last foreign troops left the base, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Kabul.
He did not say when it will be officially handed over to Afghan forces.
“We still have not been informed of any official handover of the base to Afghan forces,” a senior Afghan official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The US military and NATO are in the final stages of winding up involvement in Afghanistan, bringing home an unspecified number of remaining troops by a deadline of September 11.
The Taliban have launched relentless offensives across Afghanistan in the past two months, gobbling up dozens of districts as Afghan security forces have largely consolidated their power in the country’s major urban areas.
The ability of Afghan forces to maintain control over the vital Bagram airfield will likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in the nearby capital Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.
Over the years, the mini-city has been visited by hundreds of thousands of US and NATO service members and contractors.
It boasted swimming pools, cinemas and spas — and even a boardwalk featuring fast-food outlets such as Burger King and Pizza Hut.
The base also hosted a prison that held thousands of Taliban and jihadist inmates.
Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in the north.
Ironically, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the Red Army expanded it significantly during their near decade-long occupation.
When Moscow pulled out, it became central to the raging civil war — it was reported that at one point the Taliban controlled one end of the three-kilometre (two-mile) runway and the opposition Northern Alliance the other.
In recent months, Bagram has come under rocket barrages claimed by the jihadist Islamic State, stirring fears that militants are already eyeing the base for future attacks.
The NATO-led non-combat mission aimed to train Afghan forces into ensuring their country’s security after the departure of foreign forces.
As of February 2021, there were about 9,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan, of which the US made up the largest contingent of 2,500.
So far Germany and Italy have both confirmed the full withdrawal of their troops. (AFP)