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All US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base as withdrawal looms

All US and NATO troops have left the most extensive airbase in Afghanistan, officials said on Friday, signaling the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country after two decades of war was imminent.

Bagram Air Base served as the linchpin for US operations in the rugged country, where the long war against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies started in 2001 following the 11 September attacks.

“The American and coalition forces have completely withdrawn from the base, and henceforth the Afghan army forces will protect it and use it to combat terrorism,” defense ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said on Twitter.

A US defense official confirmed their departure, while the Taliban said it welcomed and supported the latest phase of the troop pullout.

“Their full withdrawal will pave the way for Afghans to decide about their future between themselves,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

The US military and NATO are in the final stages of winding up involvement in Afghanistan, bringing home an unspecified number of remaining troops by a deadline of 11 September.

The Taliban have launched relentless offensives across Afghanistan in the past two months, gobbling up dozens of districts as Afghan security forces have primarily consolidated their power in the country’s major urban areas.

The ability of Afghan forces to maintain control over the vital Bagram airfield will likely prove pivotal to maintaining security in the nearby capital Kabul and keeping pressure on the Taliban.

The exit of foreign forces from the Bagram base “symbolizes that Afghanistan is alone, abandoned, and left to defend itself against the Taliban’s onslaught”, said Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani. Having reached home, Americans and allied forces will now watch what they fought so hard to build over 20 years burn down from afar and knowing that the Afghan men and women they fought with risk losing everything.”

A lot of insecurity

Residents of Bagram said security will only deteriorate with the exit of foreign forces.

“The situation is already chaotic… there is a lot of insecurity, and the government does not have (enough) weapons and equipment,” Matiullah, who owns a footwear shop in Bagram bazaar, told AFP.

“Since they started the withdrawal, the situation has got worse. There is no work … there is no business,” said Fazal Karim, a bicycle mechanic. Over the years, the mini-city has been visited by hundreds of thousands of US and NATO service members and contractors. At one point, it boasted swimming pools, cinemas, and spas – and even a boardwalk featuring fast-food outlets such as Burger King and Pizza Hut.

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