U.S. Leaves Its Last Afghan Base, Effectively Ending Operations


Though the past 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan could be seen as civil war, a return to the fractious era of warlords and armed fiefs has long been feared.

With a line of snow-capped mountains as its backdrop, the Bagram airfield was built in the 1950s by the Soviet Union. It became a vital military hub during the Soviets’ 10-year occupation of Afghanistan. After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the Taliban and what was known as the Northern Alliance fought for the base, sometimes with their trenches at either end.

When it invaded Afghanistan in 2001, after the Qaeda terrorist attacks in America, the United States inherited rubble at the Bagram site. In January 2002, when the first American service member killed by enemy fire, Sgt. First Class Nathan R. Chapman, was sent home, there were no American flags to drape on his coffin, so a flag patch from someone’s uniform had to suffice.

By 2011, at the height of the American war, the air base had ballooned into a small city, with two runways, tens of thousands of occupants, shops and a U.S. military prison that became notorious. The thunder of jets and other aircraft, armed with hundreds of pounds of munitions that were dropped across the country, sometimes killing civilians, became a constant soundtrack for local residents throughout the conflict.

The base was also more violently attacked over the years, often by Taliban rockets and mortars, but sometimes by other means. In one of the worst strikes, in November 2016, a suicide bomber sneaked onto Bagram Air Base, hidden among a group of workers. The blast killed four Americans and wounded more than a dozen others.

Other foreign forces that helped guard the base as part of the U.S.-led coalition, like those from Georgia and the Czech Republic, saw their own casualties during their deployments.

In 2014, as the United States concluded its first official drawdown after the surge of troops in the years before — which brought the number of American and other international forces into the country to well over 100,000 — Bagram began to shrink.



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