TWENTY years after invading Afghanistan, US-led coalition troops have vacated the largest military base in the war-torn country, located in the ancient city of Bagram, about 45 miles north of Kabul.
They have retreated, a beaten force with their tails between their legs, like a beaten dog.
The sprawling airfield, hich was once the epicentre of US military operations in Afghanistan, was on Friday formally handed over to the Afghan forces, according to media reports, quoting officials.
The massive airfield with two runways, 110 revetments, three large hangars, a control tower and many support buildings was the main entry point for tens of thousands of foreign troops that came to Afghanistan over the past 20 years. It was also the exit point for nearly 2,000 US service members killed in the fighting.
The base occasionally came under the target of Taliban attacks, which included suicide bombings and rocket attacks, putting at risk many residential areas in its vicinity.
At its peak in mid-2011, nearly 100,000 US troops passed through the compound, apart from some 35,000 US contractors, which have now plummeted to 2,500 troops and 18,000 contractors.
The full withdrawal of some 2,500 US troops from the country is expected to be completed by mid or late July, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s September 11 deadline.
The top US military commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, says work has begun to withdraw the remaining foreign forces from the country.
It is the second time in recent history that an invading army has come and gone through Bagram.
The air base was built by the Soviet Union in 1950s. When it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back a communist government, it turned it into its main military base in the country.
For about 10 years, the Soviets fought the US-backed mujahedeen, whom then-US President Ronald Reagan called ‘freedom fighters’. Some of them would later fight the US and become ‘terrorists’.
The hushed departure of US and NATO forces from their most significant military base in the country comes amidst the resurgence of the Taliban and the unprecedented spike in violence.
Experts see it as a symbolic victory for the Taliban, who have upped the ante in recent months, overrunning a large number of districts across the country. The quiet exit also signifies the defeat for US-led coalition forces after 20 years of occupation.
Most NATO troops have already left the country, without pomp or ceremony, in stark contrast to their dramatic emergence in 2001, when they lined up to back the US-led invasion.
The coalition agreed in April to pull out its 7,000 forces from Afghanistan, and 19 countries have announced troop withdrawals totalling more then 4,800. Germany and Italy declared their missions in Afghanistan over on Wednesday and Poland’s last troops have returned home.
The US military, however, is expected to keep about 650 troops in the war-ravaged country, on the pretext of protecting its large embassy in Kabul, while keeping the option of airstrikes open.
The Taliban say they would not participate in any peace talks for Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave the Asian country.
According to reports, General Scott Miller, the top US commander in Afghanistan, will fly out, and his role will be taken over by Marine General Frank McKenzie, the top US commander for Middle East, who is based in Florida.
The new US commander in Afghanistan will be Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, who will head the security mission at the US Embassy in Kabul, according to reports.
In his final press conference in Kabul earlier this week, Miller spoke at length about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
He noted the rapid loss of districts around the country to the Taliban and warned that ‘a civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now, that should be of concern to the world.’
- A senior Yemeni official has reacted to the latest remarks by US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking about ongoing clashes in the country’s strategic central province of Ma’rib, emphasising that Yemeni people dismiss the call for peace with parties that are targeting and killing them on a daily basis.
‘Yemeni people hate siege, attacks by the Saudi-led coalition and their mercenaries, as well as the call for peace with aggressors who are killing them every day,’ Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council, wrote in a series of posts published on his Twitter page late on Thursday.
He added, ‘The United States is negotiating with and supporting al-Qaeda and Daesh (Takfiri terrorist groups) worldwide. This is while it expresses concern over the Yemeni nation’s campaign and struggle against these terrorists.’
A Yemeni official says the US has taken no practical steps to promote peace and end the long-running war in Yemen.
‘The hatred for America will end as soon as its aggression stops, the siege is lifted and the occupation of Yemen halts. This is what the Leader of Ansarullah movement Abdul-Malik al-Houthi has long been demanding,’ Houthi pointed out.
‘Why doesn’t the United States stop selling its weapons to those waging aggression against Yemen? The main reason is its insistence to prolong the war and occupy Yemen,’ the senior Yemeni official noted.
Earlier in the day, Lenderking said there was a need to pressure Yemeni Ansarullah fighters into stopping their attacks on Ma’rib.
The US State Department spokesperson Ned Price also told a press briefing that Washington is ‘beyond fed up’ with retaliatory attacks by Yemeni army forces and their allies.
Houthi’s remarks come as all efforts by the United Nations and collective action at the international level for establishing peace and ending the imposed war have failed.
The Yemenis say the Saudi-led aggressors have to end all their attacks against Yemen, take out all their forces, end an all-out siege that they have been imposing on the Arab country, and compensate the victims before entering any peace process.
Meanwhile, Saudi fighter jets launched three airstrikes against the Sirwah district in Yemen’s Ma’rib province on Thursday evening. There were no immediate reports about possible casualties and the extent of damage caused.
A senior Yemeni official says territorial gains made by the country’s armed forces and their allies forced the United States to recognise the Ansarullah movement as a legitimate actor in Yemen.
Saudi warplanes also carried out an air raid against the Majzar district in the same Yemeni province, but no reports about damage and casualties were quickly available.
Saudi Arabia, backed by the US and regional allies, launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing the popular Ansarullah resistance movement.
Yemeni armed forces and allied Popular Committees have, however, gone from strength to strength against the Saudi-led invaders, and left Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the country.
The Saudi war has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions more. The war has also destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases across the Arab country.