On Friday, the US military withdrew the last of its forces from Bagram Air Base, the largest US military facility in Afghanistan, and handed it over to the Afghan government. Bagram, a former Soviet airstrip, hosted US troops for almost 20 years and was a significant symbol of the US occupation of Afghanistan.
The Bagram Air Base had expanded as the US mission in Afghanistan grew. At the height of its operations in 2012, the base saw 100,000 troops pass through. The US has scrapped much of the equipment at Bagram and is handed over what’s left to Afghan forces. Now the Afghan military will use the base, but the US will still be paying for it.
After President Biden ordered to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan, many observers questioned if the US was willing to give up Bagram Air Base. While the US military leaving Bagram marks the end of an era, Washington is still looking to maintain a presence in Afghanistan, although it will look very different than before.
What US officials are calling the “formal withdrawal” from Afghanistan is expected to be completed by July 4th, well ahead of President Biden’s September 11th deadline, but at least 650 troops are expected to stay beyond September under the guise of protecting the US embassy.
The US and Turkey are also working out a deal to occupy and secure the Kabul airport, which the US sees as key to maintaining a diplomatic presence. The plan could involve more US troops staying to guard the airport. Either way, the plan will probably not be acceptable to the Taliban and only fuel more violence.