The United States defence officials have said that the last of the US and NATO forces left Afghanistan, handing over the gigantic key military base located to the north of Kabul to the Afghan security forces. At the height of the war in Afghanistan, the US forces incarcerated hundreds of Taliban insurgents and their accomplices in the Bagram military base, thus earning the sobriquet ‘Afghanistan’s Guantanamo – after the notorious US prison camp in Cuba – for it. As the United States hastens its full-scale military withdrawal from the Afghan soil and the Taliban moil for the control of key provincial capitals, many fear that the country is once again at the cusp of a deadly civil war.
Nearly two decades ago, the US forces landed in Bagram and took control in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the military base has been the hallmark of American military presence in Afghanistan. Spanning across 11 square kilometres, Bagram Air Base is capable of holding more than 10,000 troops. It has 110 parking spots for military aircraft and two runaways, one of which was built recently, that serve as the landing ground for bomber aircraft. Furthermore, the airbase contains a 50-bed hospital, a dental clinic and three movie theatres. It would not be a stretch to say that the air base is a small city in itself.
The base also hosted three US presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – during their visits to Afghanistan.
US President Joe Biden announced that the complete pull-out will be carried out on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted a two-decade-long war that has so far cost almost a trillion dollars to the US economy. A quarter of a million people have lost their lives; hundreds of thousands have been wounded and countless others displaced.
As the United States aims for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, the insurgent Taliban, a Sunni extremist group that once controlled the country, have overrun several Afghan districts, including key provincial capitals. Fears of civil war once again seem tangible, as the Afghan forces lack the adequate training and equipment to repel the advancing Taliban.
The Taliban have eyed the Bagram Air Base for quite some time now. The base packs invaluable military assets within its walls, and that treasure is a top target for the Taliban, and equally for the corrupt Afghan military commanders. With the US troops firmly ensconced there, acquiring the military base seemed a far-fetched dream for the Taliban. But as America pulls out, handing over its key base to the Afghan forces, the insurgents are buoyed by the thought of possible capture.