The U.S. military has left Bagram Air Base after nearly 20 years and handed it over to Afghanistan, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Friday. President Biden said U.S. forces will be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, but the handover of Bagram Air Base to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force is the latest sign the pullout date will be much sooner, closer to July 4. Most of the 7,000 allied NATO troops have already quietly left the country, AP reports, citing announcements from several European countries.
Bagram Air Base, first built by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, was the center of military power after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. "When the U.S. and NATO inherited Bagram in 2001, they found it in ruins, a collection of crumbling buildings, gouged by rockets and shells, most of its perimeter fence wrecked," AP reports. Under U.S. control, CNN adds, "the airfield became a small city in its own right, complete with shops, gyms, and classrooms for the thousands of service members and contractors who worked at the base and its facilities."
In 2012, more than 100,000 U.S. troops passed through Bagram, about an hour's drive north of Kabul, the capital, and Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all visited the air base. Bagram has two giant runways, three large hangars, a 50-bed hospital, and a notorious prison. Over the past few days, crews have loaded the last of what was deemed valuable enough to remove onto C-17 cargo planes. U.S. Central Command said Tuesday the U.S. military has destroyed another 16,000 piece of equipment.
When the U.S.-led Resolute Support Mission has officially wound down, the U.S. will still have about 650 troops protecting the sprawling U.S. embassy in Kabul under a separate agreement with the Afghan government. The Resolute Support agreement will likely stay in effect until the U.S., Turkey, and Afghanistan work out security arrangements for Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport. The future of Afghanistan's elected government is uncertain as the Taliban makes gains in several parts of the country.