July 10, 2021
When NBC News visited the base, some Afghan soldiers were visibly angry about the decision to withdraw U.S. forces.
An Afghan Army soldier patrols outside Bagram Air Base on July 2. (Zakeria Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)
By Richard Engel, Marc Smith and Rhea Mogul | NBC News
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – It was once the epicenter of America’s longest war. Now the Bagram Airfield is virtually deserted, a relic of America’s time in Afghanistan.
Rows of unused vehicles, food and Christmas decorations are the last remnants of U.S. life on a base that saw more than 100,000 troops pass through its gates over its 20-year life, and countless missions planned and executed from there.
Power cuts, a regular feature of life in Afghanistan, often leave the base, around 20 miles north of the country’s capital, Kabul, in complete darkness.
Now, Afghan security forces are moving in and trying to work out how the base might be used in the fight against the Taliban, who have made significant gains across the country, including in the north, an area where the extremist Islamic movement has not been strongly supported in the past.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. He said that the mission in the country would end Aug. 31 — earlier than his initial deadline of Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that triggered the war.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build,” he said in a speech at the White House. “It’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”
But when NBC News visited the Bagram Airfield on Wednesday,some Afghan soldiers were visibly angry about the decision to pull out on the night of July 2.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” one soldier said solemnly.
Abdul Malak Roufi, an Afghan army spokesman, said that before the U.S. military departed, it turned off the electricity without explaining how to operate the electrical systems. An engineering team has been assigned to inspect the systems and determine how to use them, he said.
“In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area,” another soldier told The Associated Press.
Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the base’s new commander, also told the AP that the quick departure had left his forces without adequate time to prepare.
As a result, before the Afghan army could take control of the airfield, it was looted by a small group of invaders who stormed through the open gates, he said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby disputed claims Tuesday that the U.S. left without coordination. He said Afghan civilian and military leaders were briefed. Senior Afghan leaders were given a walk-through of the facilities, he added.
The U.S. toppled the Taliban regime in 2001 after the group sheltered Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Nearly 20 years and billions of dollars in civilian and military aid later, some have questioned whether Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest and most violence-ridden countries, is better off.
America’s longest war has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops and left thousands more wounded. More than 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have been killed or wounded since the conflict began.
On Friday, a Taliban official said the group was free to attack administrative centers in Afghanistan, as it made no promise to the U.S. to leave them alone.
Richard Engel and Marc Smith reported from the Bagram Airfield, and Rhea Mogul from Hong Kong.