3 min read
30 Jun

Jonathan Schroden, of the US-based CNA Research and Analysis Organization, estimates that easily more than 100,000 people have spent significant time at Bagram over the past two decades. Bagram has built a foundation for wartime experiences for military personnel and contractors who have served in Afghanistan.

Bagram: For nearly 20 years, Bagram Airport - a sprawling semi-city behind fences and security walls - has been the core of US forces' power. At first, Bagram symbolized the US drive to avenge the terrorist attacks of 9/11, then it became a symbol of America's failure to find its way in the war against the Taliban.

In just a few days, US forces are scheduled to leave Bagram. It doesn't matter if it's Afghan or American, everyone probably believes that US forces are leaving a complicated legacy.
Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, says: "Baghram, whose grandeur easily overwhelms other structures inside Afghanistan and Iraq, has become such a huge military structure that it can become a symbol and model for the phrase "change in the purpose of the military mission."

US Central Command says more than half of Bagram has been taken and the rest is nearing completion. American officials say that the full withdrawal of American forces is likely to be completed by Sunday. After that, Afghan forces could manage Bagram as part of their ongoing war against the Taliban, and against what many believe will be a new eruption of chaos.

This farewell is full of symbols; At least, this is the second time that an Afghan occupier has taken Bagram and is now withdrawing from it.

The Soviets built this airport in the 1950s. [Soviet] When it occupied Afghanistan in 1979 to support the communist government, it made Bagram the main base to defend the occupation in the country. For ten years, the Soviet army fought with the Mujahideen supported by the United States - whom President Reagan called freedom fighters -; Mujahideen who were seen in the front line of the forces in the Cold War.

In 1989, the Union of Soviet Republics sat down at the negotiating table to withdraw. Three years later, the pro-Moscow government collapsed and the Mujahideen took power; But the result; All they had to do was point their weapons at each other and kill thousands of civilians. It was this chaos that allowed the Taliban to conquer Kabul in 1996.
When the United States and NATO took over Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins; A collection of buildings collapsing and destroyed by rockets and bullets; Most of the perimeter fences were destroyed. This area was left to itself after the battles between the Taliban and the warlords who fled to the northern regions.

After driving the Taliban out of Kabul, the US-led coalition, with its warlord allies, began the reconstruction of Bagram, first with temporary construction that later became permanent. This construction grew gigantically and eventually swallowed about 30 square miles.

"The closure of Bagram is a huge symbolic and strategic victory for the Taliban," said Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"If the Taliban gain control of the base, they will use it as propaganda fodder against the United States," Roggio said. Meanwhile, it could be a windfall for them.
The large base has two escape routes; The newest one was built in 2006 at a cost of 96 million dollars; It has 110 covers, which is basically a place for planes to land, protected by security walls.

Global Security: A security think tank says Bagram has three hangars, a control tower and numerous other support buildings. This base has a 50-bed hospital with a trauma workshop, three operation theaters and a modern dental clinic. There are also fitness centers and fast food restaurants. The other part has a "notorious and terrible prison in the eyes of Afghans".

Jonathan Schroden, of the US-based CIA Research and Analysis, estimates that easily more than 100,000 people have spent significant time at Bagram over the past two decades. Bagram has built a foundation for wartime experiences for military personnel and contractors who have served in Afghanistan.

"The departure of the last American soldiers, considering the time they were in that country, will probably be known to some as the last chapter [of a story]," he said.

For Afghans living in Bagram district, an area that has more than 100 villages with financial support from gardens and agricultural fields, this base is considered a major recruiter.

 Darvish Raofi, the district governor of this region, says: "The withdrawal of the United States affects almost all households."
The Americans have delivered some weapons and other ammunition to the Afghan army, and whatever they don't take with them, they destroy or sell to "scrap" sellers around Bagram. American officials say; They must ensure that nothing usable falls into the hands of the Taliban.

Last week, US Central Command announced that it had destroyed 14,790 pieces of equipment and removed 763 aircraft full of ammunition from Afghanistan. The residents of Bagram village say that they hear an explosion from inside the base, which is most likely from the Americans who are destroying buildings and equipment.
Raofi said many villagers have complained to him that the United States is only leaving behind its own destroyed materials.

"Unfortunately, there is something symbolic about how the United States withdrew from Bagram," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the US-based Wilson Center. The decision to remove and destroy much of what remains reflects the US's urgency to exit quickly. "This is not the sweetest parting gift for the Afghans, especially those who will occupy the base."

Retired Afghan general Saifullah Safi, who worked alongside American forces in Bagram, said that the Soviets abandoned all their equipment when they retreated. "They didn't take much with them, they only took the vehicles they needed to transport their soldiers to Russia," he added.

The prison of this base was handed over to Afghans in 2013. They will continue to work there. In the early years of the war, Bagram, along with Guantanamo, was synonymous with fear for many Afghans. Parents used the name of this prison to threaten their crying children.

In the early years of the occupation, Afghans often disappeared for months without any news of their whereabouts until the International Committee of the Red Cross identified their location in Bagram. Some returned home again; With stories of his torture.

Zabihullah, who did not give his last name, says: "When someone even mentions the word Bagram, I hear screams of pain from the prison." He spent six years in Bagram on charges of being a member of Golbedin Hekmatyar's faction. Being a member of Hekmatyar's party was a crime at the time of Zabihullah's arrest. Zabihullah was released from prison in 2020, four years after Ashraf Ghani signed a peace agreement with Hekmatyar.

Roggio says the state of the prison is a major concern, noting that many of the inmates there are known Taliban leaders or members of militant groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. It is believed that about 7,000 prisoners are still in Bagram.

According to Roggio, "if the base falls and the prisoners escape, these detainees can strengthen the ranks of terrorist groups."

Source: Los Angeles Times

Author: Kathy Gannon

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