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Leaving Bagram Airbase: The Day The US Imperium Turned Tail


From the Bagram Airbase they left, leaving behind a piece
of the New York World Trade Centre that collapsed with such
graphic horror on September 11, 2001. As with previous
occupiers and occupants, the powers that had made this venue
a residence of war operations were cutting their losses and
running.

Over the years, the base, originally built by
the Soviets in the 1950s and known to US personnel as Bagram
Airfield, became a loud statement of occupation, able to
hold up to 10,000 troops and sprawling across 30 square
miles. It was also replete with cholesterol hardening fast
food restaurants (Pizza Hut, Burger King), jewellers, car
dealerships and such amenities as swimming pools, spas and
cinemas.

Bagram also had room to accommodate the
unfortunates captured in that anomalously worded “War on
Terror”: detainees, many al-Qaeda suspects, faced torture
in what came to be known as Afghanistan’s Guantanamo. US
forces relinquished
control
of the prison, now sporting the benign name of
Parwan Detention Facility, to Afghan security forces in
December 2014. Ill-treatment of prisoners
continued.

After two decades, it seemed that the US
armed forces could not wait to leave. The departure date,
scheduled for September, was being brought forward, though
President Joe Biden denied that anything had changed. “A
safe, orderly drawdown,” stated
the Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, “enables us to
maintain an ongoing diplomatic presence, support the Afghan
people and the government, and prevent Afghanistan from once
again becoming a safe haven for terrorists that threatens
our homeland.”

There was little fuss in the way
things unfolded on July 1 – at least initially. The New
York Times
observed
that the final withdrawal “occurred with little fanfare
and no public ceremony, and in an atmosphere of grave
concern over the Afghan security forces’ ability to hold
off Taliban advances across the country.”

The signal
for chaos and mayhem had been given. Darwaish Raufi,
Afghanistan’s district administrator for Bagram, found
himself confronting an ominous spectacle. There had been
confusion and uncertainty about the logistics of the
operation. With the base unsecured, around 100 looters
capitalised, seizing gas canisters and laptops. “They were
stopped and some have been arrested and the rest have been
cleared from the base.” The district governor was left
puzzled. “American soldiers should share information with
the Afghan government, especially local officials, but they
didn’t let me know.”

US military spokesman Colonel
Sonny Leggett disagreed.
“All handovers of Resolute Support bases and facilities,
to include Bagram Airfield, have been closely coordinated,
both with senior leaders from the government and with our
Afghan partners in the security forces, including leadership
of the locally based units respective to each
base.”

Across the country, the Taliban are smacking
their lips in anticipation of further gains. “We consider
this withdrawal a positive step,” said
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “Afghans can get
closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of
foreign forces.” So far, the peace negotiations move at
snail-like speed. The Taliban refuse to declare a ceasefire.
Districts in the country have been falling with regularity
to their forces. Demoralised Afghan soldiers have been
leaving their posts, though this is justified on the basis
of strategic soundness (urban centres need
protection).

With a security vacuum gapingly prominent
in parts of the country, regional militias have promised to
mount resistance. “Having reached home,” Nishank
Motwani, Deputy Director of the Afghanistan Research and
Evaluation in Unit in Kabul gloomily
remarked
, “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.”

Former UK chief
of the defence staff Lord David Richards could hardly
improve on that, telling the BBC that, “A country that we
promised a huge amount to now faces … almost certain civil
war, with the likelihood that the Taliban will get back to
where they were in 2001, occupying most of the major cities
and the majority of the country.”

General Richard
Dannant, formerly chief of the general staff, kept matters
paternalistic; as with other civilising missions of imperial
days past, he
wrote
of a task that had failed. “Taliban force of
arms has prevailed, and the people of that country have been
denied the chance to choose a better way of
life.”

The Biden administration continues to offer
its model of hollow assurance for an ally it has cut loose,
accompanied by a promise
to provide security assistance to the value of $3 billion in
2022. The President’s meeting
with President Ashraf Ghani and chairman of the High Council
for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on June 25 saw
the recapitulation of unconvincing themes. All three
“concurred on the need for unity among Afghan leaders in
support of peace and stability”. Biden “reaffirmed the
US commitment to fully support intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Despite the departure of US troops, “the strong bilateral
partnership will continue.”

In a State Department
briefing on July 1, officials continued to patch up the
façade of support. When asked by a journalist how the US
could claim to be supporting the Afghan government “when
we’re not going to be there”, department spokesperson
Ned Price was
prepared
with some casuistry: “we are withdrawing our
military forces, as the President announced, but we intend
to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul.” The country
would not be abandoned; support would be
undiminished.

At a White House press conference, Biden
suggested how far down Afghanistan, and its fate, features
in US policy circles. In a moment of frankness, he put a
halt to questions on that doomed country and wished to
“talk about happy things, man. I’m not going to answer
any more questions on Afghanistan.” It was a matter of
priorities. “It’s the holiday weekend. I’m going to
celebrate it. There’s great things happening.” Just not
in Afghanistan.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a
Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He
lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:
bkampmark@gmail.com

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