All US and NATO troops have left the biggest air base in Afghanistan, officials said yesterday, signaling that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country was imminent after two decades of war.
Bagram Air Base served as the linchpin for US-led operations in the rugged country, where the long war against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies started following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“The American and coalition forces have completely withdrawn from the base and henceforth the Afghan army forces will protect it and use it to combat terrorism,” Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Fawad Aman wrote on Twitter.
A US defense official confirmed their departure, while the Taliban said it welcomed and supported the latest phase of the troop pullout.
“Their full withdrawal will pave the way for Afghans to decide about their future between themselves,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
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 Sept. 11.
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 of Bagram airfield would likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.
The exit of foreign forces from the base “symbolizes that Afghanistan is alone, abandoned and left to defend itself against the Taliban’s onslaught,” Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani said.
“Having reached home, Americans and allied forces will now watch what they fought so hard to build over 20 years burn down from afar, and knowing that the Afghan men and women they fought with risk losing everything,” Motwani said.
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