After nearly 20 years, the last US troops have left Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base. The airbase was officially handed over to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in its entirety on Friday (July 2), Rohullah Ahamadzai, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense told CNN.
U.S. troops have been officially withdrawing since May 1 and their exit from Bagram is part of Washington’s plans to completely withdraw its military from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
U.S. forces invaded and occupied the country in 2001 following 9/11, with the resulting war becoming the United States’ longest military engagement. Nearly 2,000 US servicemembers were killed in action during 20 years of fighting.
At its peak, Bagram airbase, at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains, saw more than 100,000 US troops pass through its sprawling compound 50km (30 miles) north of capital, Kabul.
U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all visited Bagram during their time in office.
The Taliban welcomed the US withdrawal from Bagram, describing the decision as beneficial for both sides. “We consider the evacuation of all US forces from Bagram a positive step and seek the withdrawal of foreign forces from all parts of the country. Such is in the interest of both them and Afghans. Afghans can move closer to peace and security with the complete withdrawal of foreign forces,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Sputnik News.
The departure is the second time that an invader of Afghanistan has come and gone through Bagram. The Soviet Union built the airfield in the 1950s. When it invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it turned it into its main base.
The enormous base has two runways. The most recent, at 12,000 feet (3,660 metres) long, was built in 2006 at a cost of $96m.
The US will also have about 650 troops in Afghanistan to protect its embassy in the capital. Their presence it is understood will be covered in a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government.
US President Joe Biden promised a “sustained” partnership during a June 25 White House meeting with his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani.
With reporting by CNN, Sputnik, Al Jazeera