UPDATE1: US / Afghan defense ministers talk/ Taliban reaction/ turf war updates/ background
By Shadi Khan Saif and Handan Kazanci
ISTANBUL/ KABUL (AA) – With the US forces ahead of schedule on their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Bagram Airfield, the biggest US military station in the country, has been transferred to the Afghan forces, according to local media on Friday.
“After nearly two decades, the US military has left the Bagram Airfield in central Afghanistan and has handed it over to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, sources from the Ministry of Defense confirmed,” Afghanistan-based Tolo News reported.
The US forces have been in Afghanistan since their invasion in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, planned by terrorists taking shelter under the Taliban, then Afghanistan’s rulers.
Located 69 kilometers (43 miles) north of the capital Kabul in the northern province of Parwan, Bagram Airfield saw more than 100,000 US troops pass through its compound, according to the report.
According to the report, the handover shows that “last of the roughly 2,500 to 3,500 US troops” have left the war-ravaged country.
-Turf war rages on
Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Muhammadi spoke over phone with his US counterpart Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and shared concerns over growing violence in the country.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Fawad Amaan told Anadolu Agency the two shared concerns over mounting Taliban assaults. “The US Secretary of Defense hailed the Afghan forces’ efforts in suppressing the terrorists,” he said, adding the Afghan minister thanked the US for the continued support, particularly for the Afghan Air Force.
In the wake of the US withdrawal, the Taliban are on an offensive nationwide, overrunning up to 100 districts, while the Afghan security claim killing nearly 200 insurgents in counter-terrorism operations on daily basis.
“129 #Taliban terrorists were killed and 95 others were wounded as a result of #ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) operations in Nuristan, Laghman, Kunar, Uruzgan, Farah, Balkh, Helmand, Takhar & Kabul provinces during the last 24 hours. Also, 22 IEDs were discovered & defused by #ANA (Afghan National Army),” the Defense Ministry said on Friday.
On their part, the Taliban hailed the withdrawal of the US forces from the Bagram Air Field. “We consider evacuation of all the US forces from #Bagram a positive step and seek withdrawal of foreign forces from all parts of the country. Such is in the interest of both them & Afghans. Afghans can move closer to peace and security with complete withdrawal of foreign forces”, the group said in a statement.
– From 130,000 troops to complete withdrawal
In February 2020, the US reached an agreement with the Taliban to completely withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021, later pushed back to Sept. 11 of this year.
More than 50% of the withdrawal has been completed and six military bases have been handed over to the Afghan forces, but the American command has not yet officially announced the number of troops withdrawn, according to the most recent statement by the US Central Command.
The US is expected to keep a military unit of several hundred to protect its embassy in Kabul.
The Biden administration, which has reportedly reached an agreement in principle with Turkey to protect Kabul's international airport, is considering retaining some military personnel as support forces.
In line with US President Joe Biden’s announcement, all American troops would depart from Afghanistan by September this year coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Deployment of foreign troops began in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001 when the US together with the UK launched Operation Enduring Freedom. They were joined by some 43 NATO allies and partners after the UN authorized International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Dec. 20, 2001.
At its peak, there were an estimated 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. This mission was declared completed on Dec. 28, 2014 with the size of foreign troops drastically reduced and combat operations by all members almost entirely ended with exception of the US.