Taliban say they 'welcome and support' the exit of foreign forces after final US and NATO troops leave Bagram airbase while the terror group sweeps across Afghanistan

 The Taliban have said they 'welcome and support' the exit of foreign forces after officials confirmed today the last US and NATO troops departed the biggest air base in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. 

The departure from Bagram Airfield and the handover to local forces as part of a peace deal with the Taliban signals the imminence of a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country after two decades of war.

'Their full withdrawal (from Afghanistan) will pave the way for Afghans to decide about their future between themselves,' Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. 

But many in the country fear the withdrawal will bring a new eruption of chaos. 

The Taliban have launched a 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. 

Bagram served as the linchpin for US operations in the country and the epicenter of its war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. 

The long war was fought with air strikes and resupply missions from the airfield. 

'All coalition forces are off Bagram,' said a U.S. official - who asked not to be identified - said on Friday without specifying when the last foreign troops left the base, 30 miles north of Afghanistan's capital Kabul.

The airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety, they said on condition they not be identified because they were not authorised to release the information to the media.

One of the officials also said the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, General Austin S. Miller, 'still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces.'  

Pictured: Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bahram U.S. air base, on the day the last American troops vacated it, July 2, 2021. The Taliban said they 'welcome and support' the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the base as part of a peace deal with the group

Pictured: Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bahram U.S. air base, on the day the last American troops vacated it, July 2, 2021. The Taliban said they 'welcome and support' the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the base as part of a peace deal with the group

Afghan soldiers move into Bagram airbase today following the departure of US, NATO forces

Afghan soldiers move into Bagram airbase today following the departure of US, NATO forces

Bagram Air Base (pictured on Thursday, July 1 as a military plane comes in to land) served as the linchpin for US operations in Afghanistan. Now, all US and NATO troops have left the base, according to US defence sources

Bagram Air Base (pictured on Thursday, July 1 as a military plane comes in to land) served as the linchpin for US operations in Afghanistan. Now, all US and NATO troops have left the base, according to US defence sources

The US fortress is 40 miles north of the capital, Kabul. It was the heart of American military might in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls

The US fortress is 40 miles north of the capital, Kabul. It was the heart of American military might in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls

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 - a pledge made by U.S. president Joe Biden. 

They are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base - whether American or Afghan - considers a strained legacy after almost 20 years in the country, a period triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.  

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.


With the departure of the US forces, thousands of Afghan translators now face being left stranded because they haven't yet been accepted for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) into America. 

Up to 18,000 translators and interpreters are under constant fear of deadly attacks from the Taliban and have been run out of their homes because of their support for the American government over the last 20 years. 

At its peak around 2012, the mini-city saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops and NATO service members pass through its sprawling compound barely an hour's drive north of the Afghan capital Kabul. 

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.

It has cost the US military 2,312 lives and $816bn, according to the Department of Defence. 

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on July 1, 2021

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier sits at a road checkpoint near the a US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul on July 1, 2021

Pictured: US troops load up helicopter onto a C-17 Globesmaster at Bagram on June 16. The western forces are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American, British or Afghan, considers a strained legacy

Pictured: US troops load up helicopter onto a C-17 Globesmaster at Bagram on June 16. The western forces are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American, British or Afghan, considers a strained legacy

US forces leave Bagram base in Afghanistan
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The withdrawal from Bagram Airfield is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops have left Afghanistan or are nearing a departure, months ahead of President Joe Biden's promise that they would be gone by Sept. 11.

It was clear soon after the mid-April announcement that the U.S. was ending its 'forever war,' that the departure of U.S. soldiers and their estimated 7,000 NATO allies would be nearer to July 4, when America celebrates its Independence Day.

Most NATO soldiers have already quietly exited as of this week. 

Announcements from several countries analysed by The Associated Press show that a majority of European troops has now left with little ceremony - a stark contrast to the dramatic and public show of force and unity when NATO allies lined up to back the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The U.S. has refused to say when the last U.S. soldier would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns, but also the protection of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport is still being negotiated. 

Turkish and U.S. soldiers currently are protecting the airport. That protection is currently covered under the Resolute Support Mission, which is the military mission being wound down.

Until a new agreement for the airport's protection is negotiated between Turkey and the Afghan government, and possibly the United States, the Resolute Support mission would appear to have to continue in order to give international troops the legal authority.

The U.S. will also have about 650 troops in Afghanistan to protect its sprawling embassy in the capital. Their presence it is understood will be covered in a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government. 

Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s

Bagram was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s

TALIBAN GAINS NEW GROUND: A lighting offensive by the Taliban which began in May has seen the group take control of vast swathes of rural Afghanistan and battle their way to the doorstep of major cities such as Kandahar, Herat and Kabul - with attacks on them expected soon

TALIBAN GAINS NEW GROUND: A lighting offensive by the Taliban which began in May has seen the group take control of vast swathes of rural Afghanistan and battle their way to the doorstep of major cities such as Kandahar, Herat and Kabul - with attacks on them expected soon

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.

US forces load a UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter into a C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Resolute Support retrograde mission, the withdrawal from Bagram, on June 16, 2021

US forces load a UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter into a C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Resolute Support retrograde mission, the withdrawal from Bagram, on June 16, 2021

A gate is seen at the Bagram Air Base, around 40 miles north of Kabul on June 25, as the last US troops withdraw from Afghanistan

A gate is seen at the Bagram Air Base, around 40 miles north of Kabul on June 25, as the last US troops withdraw from Afghanistan

The currently US departure from Bagram - once described as Afghanistan's Guantanamo - is rife with symbolism. 

Not least, it's the second time that an invader of Afghanistan has come and gone through Bagram: First the Soviet Union and then the US. 

The Soviet Union built the airfield in the 1950s. When it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back a communist government, it turned it into its main base from which it would defend its occupation of the country.

For 10 years, the Soviets fought the US-backed mujahedeen, dubbed freedom fighters by President Ronald Reagan, who saw them as a front-line force in one of the last Cold War battles.

The Soviet Union negotiated its withdrawal in 1989. Three years later, the pro-Moscow government collapsed, and the mujahedeen took power, only to turn their weapons on each other and kill thousands of civilians. That turmoil brought to power the Taliban who overran Kabul in 1996.

More than a decade later, a hundred British troops from Special Boat Service - the Royal Marines' equivalent of the SAS - flew into Bagram on November 15, 2001 to reconnoiter the area before the deployment of thousands of soldiers from Britain and the US.

Within days, they had the base up and running, including the old control tower which was blasted and bullet-riddled from the previous wars between the Russians and the US-backed mujahedeen.

When the US and NATO inherited Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins, a collection of crumbling buildings, gouged by rockets and shells, most of its perimeter fence wrecked. It had been abandoned after being battered in the battles between the Taliban and rival mujahedeen warlords fleeing to their northern enclaves. 

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles. 

The U.S. and NATO leaving comes as Taliban insurgents make strides in several parts of the country, overrunning dozens of districts and overwhelming beleaguered Afghan security Forces.

In a worrying development, the government has resurrected militias with a history of brutal violence to assist the Afghan security forces. At what had all the hallmarks of a final press conference, Gen. Miller this week warned that continued violence risked a civil war in Afghanistan that should have the world worried. 

MARCH 2002: U.S. troops from 10th Mountain Division make their way a Chinook helicopter at Bagram Air Base on their way to take up the fight in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002

MARCH 2002: U.S. troops from 10th Mountain Division make their way a Chinook helicopter at Bagram Air Base on their way to take up the fight in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002

APRIL 2002: Royal Marine Commandos board Chinook helicopters at the Bagram Air Base as they prepare to be transported to the theatre of operations and participate in Operation Snipe in the Afghan mountains

APRIL 2002: Royal Marine Commandos board Chinook helicopters at the Bagram Air Base as they prepare to be transported to the theatre of operations and participate in Operation Snipe in the Afghan mountains

NOVEMBER 2019: President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram over Thanksgiving

NOVEMBER 2019: President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram over Thanksgiving

'Bagram grew into such a massive military installation that, as with few other bases in Afghanistan and even Iraq, it came to symbolize and epitomize the phrase 'mission creep',' said Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group.  

The mood on the ground among the locals, at the time, was described as one of 'delight'.

One Afghan soldier said at the time: 'It is so nice to see the British come here. British or Americans, I don't mind which, both are my friends. Five planes came in last night. When I saw the British planes I thought 'the British are coming in, so the Taliban are definitely going out'.'

With hindsight, it's clear that the man's surety was misplaced.  

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades.

In June 2009, two American soldiers were killed in a rocket attack that also left six US soldiers injured. Four US troops were killed and several wounded in a Taliban mortar attack in June 2013.

In December 2015, six US troops were killed after a Taliban suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol near Bagram. 

And in April 2019, a car bomb attack at Bagram left three Marines dead. 

In total, approximately 2,312 American military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 

Now, the Taliban are on the cusp of a great comeback, recapturing vast swathes of the Afghani hinterland and drawing close to major cities as US and NATO withdraw. 

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades. In April 2019, three US Marines were killed when a Taliban car bomb detonated at the airbase

The base has been the subject of a number of deadly Taliban attacks over the last two decades. In April 2019, three US Marines were killed when a Taliban car bomb detonated at the airbase

VICTIMS: Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y were killed in April 2019 when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield

VICTIMS: Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y were killed in April 2019 when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield

President Barack Obama rallies troops at Bagram in 2010
President George W. Bush speaks to troops at Bagram in 2006

It has been visited by every US President - apart from Joe Biden - since American troops moved in: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Biden visited when he was Vice President back in 2011

Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Bagram's closure is a 'major symbolic and strategic victory' for the Taliban.   

'If the Taliban is able to take control of the base, it will serve as anti-U.S. propaganda fodder for years to come,' said Roggio who is also editor of the foundation's Long War Journal.

It would also be a military windfall.

The enormous base has two runways. The most recent, at 12,000 feet long, was built in 2006 at a cost of $96 million. There are 110 revetments, parking spots for aircraft, protected by blast walls.

GlobalSecurity, a security think tank, says Bagram includes three large hangars, a control tower and numerous support buildings. 

The base has a 50-bed hospital with a trauma bay, three operating theatres and a modern dental clinic. There are also fitness centers and fast food restaurants. Another section houses a prison, notorious and feared among Afghans. 

It has been visited by every US President - apart from Joe Biden - since American troops moved in: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Biden visited when he was Vice President back in 2011. 

Bagram has also been symbolic in Hollywood having been featured in films such as Iron Man and Lone Survivor, as well as TV series Homeland.  

An Afghan soldier walks around the perimeter of the airbase with the control tower seen behind the barbed-wire wall at Bagram Air Base

An Afghan soldier walks around the perimeter of the airbase with the control tower seen behind the barbed-wire wall at Bagram Air Base

A watchtower along the perimeter of the heavily-fortified base, the hub of US operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years

A watchtower along the perimeter of the heavily-fortified base, the hub of US operations in Afghanistan for the last 20 years

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles complete with a hefty border fence

After dislodging the Taliban from Kabul, the US-led coalition began working with their warlord allies to rebuild Bagram, with temporary structures that then turned permanent. Its growth was explosive, eventually swallowing up roughly 30 square miles complete with a hefty border fence

Biden defends troop withdrawal in meeting with Afghan president
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The prison in the base was handed over to the Afghans in 2012 and they will continue to operate it. In the early years of the war, for many Afghans, Bagram became synonymous with fear, next only to Guantanamo Bay. 

Parents would threaten their crying children with the prison.

In the early years of the invasion, Afghans often disappeared for months without any reports of their whereabouts until the International Committee of the Red Cross located them in Bagram. Some returned home with tales of torture. 

'When someone mentions even the word Bagram I hear the screams of pain from the prison,' said Zabihullah, who spent six years in Bagram, accused of belonging to the faction of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord designated a terrorist by the US. At the time of his arrest it was an offence to belong to Hekmatyar's party.

Zabihullah, who goes by one name, was released in 2020, four years after President Ashraf Ghani signed a peace deal with Hekmatyar.

Roggio says the status of the prison is a 'major concern,' noting that many of its prisoners are known Taliban leaders or members of militant groups, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. It's believed about 7,000 detainees are still held there.

'If the base falls and the prison is overrun, these detainees can bolster the ranks of these terror groups,' Roggio said. 

Jonathan Schroden, of the US-based research and analysis organization CNA, estimates that well over 100,000 people spent significant time at Bagram over the past two decades. 

'Bagram formed a foundation for the wartime experience of a large fraction of US military members and contractors who served in Afghanistan,' said Schroden, director of CNA's Center for Stability and Development.

'The departure of the last US troops from there will likely serve as the final turn of the page for many of these folks with respect to their time in that country,' he said.  

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near the base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near the base)

Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind, but many have searched through the rubble for valuable items, such as these boots, to sell
District Governor Darwaish Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind (pictured, a man holds a teddy bear as people look for useable items at a junkyard near the Bagram Air Base)

District Governor Darwaish Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the U.S. leaving just their junk behind (pictured, a man holds a teddy bear as people look for useable items at a junkyard near the Bagram Air Base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram (pictured, a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Bagram villagers say they hear explosions from inside the base, apparently the Americans destroying buildings and material (pictured, people selecting items from a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Bagram villagers say they hear explosions from inside the base, apparently the Americans destroying buildings and material (pictured, people selecting items from a junkyard near Bagram Air Base)

Last week, the U.S. Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment (pictured, a policeman stands guard as workers unload a container at a junkyard in Bagram)

Last week, the U.S. Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment (pictured, a policeman stands guard as workers unload a container at a junkyard in Bagram)

For Afghans in Bagram district, a region of more than 100 villages supported by orchards and farming fields, the base has been a major supplier of employment.

The US withdrawal effects nearly every household, according to district governor Darwaish Raufi.

The Americans have been giving the Afghan military some weaponry and other material. 

Anything else that they are not taking, they are destroying and selling it to scrap dealers around Bagram. US officials say they must ensure nothing usable can ever fall into Taliban hands.

Last week, the US Central Command said it had junked 14,790 pieces of equipment and sent 763 C-17 aircraft loaded with material out of Afghanistan. 

Bagram villagers say they have been hearing explosions from inside the base, which is apparently the Americans destroying buildings and materials.

Raufi said many villagers have complained to him about the US leaving just their junk behind. 

'There's something sadly symbolic about how the US has gone about leaving Bagram. The decision to take so much away and destroy so much of what is left speaks to the U.S. urgency to get out quickly,' said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US-based Wilson Center.

'It's not the kindest parting gift for Afghans, including those taking over the base.'

Inevitably, comparisons to the former Soviet Union have arisen. 

Retired Afghan Gen. Saifullah Safi, who worked alongside US forces at Bagram, said the Soviets left all their equipment when they withdrew. They 'didn't take much with them, just the vehicles they needed to transport their soldiers back to Russia,' he said.   


Militiamen gather near Kabul on June 23 this year to pledge their allegiance to the Afghan government in preparation for a Taliban assault that is threatening to overwhelm major cities

Militiamen gather near Kabul on June 23 this year to pledge their allegiance to the Afghan government in preparation for a Taliban assault that is threatening to overwhelm major cities

Hundreds of militiamen shout 'death to the Taliban' as they join government forces in Kabul on June 23 ahead of what is expected to be a major jihadist assault

Hundreds of militiamen shout 'death to the Taliban' as they join government forces in Kabul on June 23 ahead of what is expected to be a major jihadist assault

Meanwhile, Afghan translators and interpreters who have worked alongside all US military branches and against the insurgents for the last 20 years now fear they could be left behind. 

They have served with the CIA, the State Department, the Army and the Marines on the frontlines in one of the most dangerous battle zones in the world - but have been left in limbo by the slow process to get accepted for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). 

They are the cooks, drivers and cultural advisors who were essential in supporting ground operations - even though they knew siding with American military would put their livelihoods in imminent danger. 

They are all under threat, and when the U.S. ends its military presence on September 11, they will be even more exposed to the violence of the Taliban, who have grown increasingly aggressive since Biden announced he was pulling out U.S. forces.

Many have already seen relatives killed and others fear they will be decapitated. They are now reaching out to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to give them safe haven in the United States.

Some have been waiting years to have their application approved, with the longest dating back to 1981, according to No One Left Behind, the non-profit charity fighting to make sure the U.S. government keeps their promise to those who supported the military during some of the most intense fighting in Helmand Province.

The organization says 300 Afghan interpreters have been killed in targeted attacks while waiting to secure their visas since 2014, but the exact numbers are unknown. 

The process should take nine months, but has been hampered by a myriad of setbacks including the COVID pandemic and the need for translators to get paperwork. 

SIVs are available to those who have helped the U.S. military and now face serious threats as a result of their employment. 

The U.S. has handed out 50 special visas per year to be issued to Afghan and Iraqi interpreters and translators. 

There have also been 26,500 visas allocated to Afghans employed by the government since December 2014, but the process for those who haven't had their applications accepted is slow. 

Taliban say they 'welcome and support' the exit of foreign forces after final US and NATO troops leave Bagram airbase while the terror group sweeps across Afghanistan Taliban say they 'welcome and support' the exit of foreign forces after final US and NATO troops leave Bagram airbase while the terror group sweeps across Afghanistan Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 07:45 Rating: 5

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