The US military completely abandoned one of its major bases in Afghanistan, “slipping away in the night” without notifying the Afghan commander who was taking over.
Bagram Air Base, north of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, has been the main centre of US military operations in the country for most of the past two decades.
On Friday, US officials said the base had been vacated and handed over to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
But the withdrawal reportedly took America’s Afghan allies by surprise.
The Associated Press has revealed the Americans shut off the base’s electricity on their way out around 3am, and the complex was then raided by a “small army” of looters before the Afghans realised what had happened.
The looters “ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents”.
“We did not know of their timeline for departure. They did not tell us when they left,” General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the new commander of Bagram, said during a tour of the base today.
“We (heard) some rumour that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally, by 7am, we understood that it was confirmed.”
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As noted by Politco’s defence editor Dave Brown, the manner of America’s night-time withdrawal from Bagram was eerily reminiscent of a parody news article written by The Onion a decade ago.
The spoof article, published in July of 2011, was headlined: “US Quietly Slips Out of Afghanistan In Dead Of Night.”
“In what officials said was the ‘only way’ to move on from what has become a ‘sad and unpleasant’ situation, all 100,000 US military and intelligence personnel crept out of their barracks in the dead of night Sunday and quietly slipped out of Afghanistan,” it read.
“US commanders explained their sudden pullout in a short, handwritten note left behind at Bagram Airfield, their largest base of operations in the country.
“‘By the time you read this, we will be gone,’ the note to the nation of Afghanistan read in part. ‘We regret any pain this may cause you, but this was something we needed to do. We couldn’t go on like this forever.’”
In April, President Joe Biden set September 11 as the deadline for all US troops to leave Afghanistan, two decades after the terrorist attacks that prompted America’s invasion of the country.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” he said.
“It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home.”
When Mr Biden issued that order, there were officially 2500 troops and 16,000 private contractors still in Afghanistan. According to reports, there were also some 1000 special forces troops operating in the country at the time who were not included in the tally.
The President promised America’s “diplomatic and humanitarian work” in Afghanistan would continue, even without its military involvement.
Mr Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, previously struck a deal with the Taliban for US troops to leave by May 1. The Biden administration concluded that plan was unrealistic.
In recent months, as the US and NATO forces have been finalising their exit, the Taliban has been winning on the battlefield.
It now controls about a third of Afghanistan’s districts.
Today the Pentagon’s Central Command announced the withdrawal of US troops was more than 90 per cent complete.
It said seven former US bases had been officially handed over to the Afghan security forces. The equivalent of nearly 1000 C-17 air freighter loads of equipment has been removed from the country.
– with AFP