Afghan military officials have said that US left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night, international news agency Associated Press reported.
The report said that US did not even inform the base’s new Afghan commander, who discovered the Americans’ departure more than two hours after they left.
Afghanistan’s army showed off the sprawling air base Monday, providing a rare first glimpse of what had been the epicenter of America’s war to unseat the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on America, the news agency reported.
On Friday, the US announced it had completely vacated its biggest airfield in the country in advance of a final withdrawal the Pentagon says will be completed by the end of August.
“We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” AP quoted Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander, as saying.
Before the Afghan army could take control, the airfield, barely an hour’s drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, was invaded by a small army of looters, who ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents before being evicted, the report quoted Afghan military officials as saying.
“At first we thought maybe they were Taliban,” Abdul Raouf, a soldier of 10 years told AP. He said the US called from the Kabul airport and said “we are here at the airport in Kabul.”
Kohistani insisted the Afghan National Security and Defense Force could hold on to the heavily fortified base despite a string of Taliban wins on the battlefield. The airfield also includes a prison with about 5,000 prisoners, many of them allegedly Taliban.
The Taliban’s latest surge comes as the last U.S. and NATO forces pull out of the country. As of last week, most NATO soldiers had already quietly left. The last U.S. soldiers are likely to remain until an agreement to protect the Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is expected to be done by Turkey, is completed, AP reported.
Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan, district after district has fallen to the Taliban. In just the last two days hundreds of Afghan soldiers fled across the border into Tajikistan rather than fight the insurgents.
Pertinently, Taliban has captured several districts in northern Afghanistan as Afghan troops fled to neighboring Tajikistan. The Taliban now control roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centers in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s march through northern Afghanistan gained momentum overnight with the capture of several districts from fleeing Afghan forces, several hundred of whom fled across the border into Tajikistan, Associated Press quoted officials as saying on Sunday.
The report quoting the statement of Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security, said that more than 300 Afghan military personnel crossed from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province as Taliban fighters advanced toward the border.
The Afghan troops crossed over at about 6: 30, in the evening, on local time Saturday, the report added.
“Guided by the principles of humanism and good neighborliness,” the Tajik authorities allowed the retreating Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to cross into Tajikistan, said the statement.
Since mid-April, when US President Joe Biden announced the end to Afghanistan’s “forever war,” the Taliban have made strides throughout the country. But their most significant gains have been in the northern half of the country, a traditional stronghold of the US-allied warlords who helped defeat them in 2001.
The report said that Taliban now control roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centers in Afghanistan.
The gains in northeastern Badakhshan province in recent days have mostly come to the insurgent movement without a fight, AP quoted Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member, as saying. He blamed Taliban successes on the poor morale of troops who are mostly outnumbered and without resupplies.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the districts were left to Taliban without any fight,” said Rahman. In the last three days, 10 districts fell to Taliban, eight without a fight, he said.
Hundreds of Afghan army, police and intelligence troops surrendered their military outposts and fled to the Badakhshan provincial capital of Faizabad, said Rahman.
Even as a security meeting was being held early Sunday to plot the strengthening of the perimeter around the capital, some senior provincial officials were leaving Faizabad for the capital Kabul, he said.
In late June the Afghan government resurrected militias with a reputation of brutal violence to support the beleaguered Afghan forces but Rahman said many of the militias in the Badakhshan districts put up only a half-hearted fight.
The areas under Taliban control in the north are increasingly strategic, running along Afghanistan’s border with central Asian states. Last month the religious movement took control of Imam Sahib, a town in Kunduz province opposite Uzbekistan and gained control of a key trade route.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the fall of the districts to AP and said most were without a fight. The Taliban in previous surrenders have shown video of Afghan soldiers taking transportation money and returning to their homes.
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