Photos show looted Bagram air base hours after US retreat as Biden is warned he’ll ‘own’ any ugliness that follows

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Hours after the retreat of US troops, photographs from the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan show how locals looted it over the weekend, taking away basketballs, stereo speakers, laptops, bicycle helmets and other pieces of scrap.

US troops on Friday shut off the electricity at Bagram and left in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, according to Afghan security officials.

General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, who is Bagram’s new commander, discovered the Americans’ departure more than two hours after they left.

“We (heard) some rumour that the Americans had left Bagram ... and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” said General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, who is Bagram’s new commander.

An Afghan army soldier surveys belongings left by the US military inside the Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometers north of the capital Kabul, Afghanistan, 05 July 2021. (EPA)
An Afghan army soldier surveys belongings left by the US military inside the Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometers north of the capital Kabul, Afghanistan, 05 July 2021. (EPA)

Bagram is the biggest airbase in Afghanistan and was the epicentre of America’s war for over two decades.

But before Afghanistan’s army took over, the airbase was ransacked by looters from the local area, Afghan military officials said.

The airfield, which is about an hour’s drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, was invaded by a small army of looters, who ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents before being evicted.

“At first we thought maybe they were Taliban,” said Abdul Raouf, a soldier. He said US officers called from the Kabul airport and said “we are here at the airport in Kabul.”

The photographs showed Afghan troops using material left at the airport, including some playing guitar. Some pictures showed local Afghan men selling second-hand materials outside the Bagram airbase. Last week, the Pentagon said the withdrawal will be completed by the end of August, days before the final deadline of 11 September.

The airfield also includes a prison with about 5,000 prisoners, many of them allegedly Taliban.

Afghan scrap dealers sort items which were discarded by the US forces outside Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometers north of the capital Kabul, Afghanistan, 03 July 2021. (EPA)
Afghan scrap dealers sort items which were discarded by the US forces outside Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometers north of the capital Kabul, Afghanistan, 03 July 2021. (EPA)

On Sunday, Republican leader Michael McCaul warned that “when we fully withdraw, the devastation and the killings and women … fleeing across the border into Pakistan, President Biden is going to own these ugly images,” reported Fox News.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has already been making moves to control large parts of Afghanistan. It claims that it now controls about 100 of nearly 400 districts, triggering fears that the country may be inching back towards a civil war.

The Taliban has also warned that any foreign troops left in Afghanistan after the 11 September deadline set for their withdrawal are at risk.

The sprawling air base had been exclusively used by the US and Nato allies. It has two runways, including one which is more than 3,660 meters long and over 100 parking spots for fighter jets. It also has blast walls that protect each aircraft, a passenger lounge, a 50-bed hospital and giant hangar-size tents filled with supplies such as furniture.

An Afghan scrap dealer buy items which were discarded by the US forces outside Bagram Airfield. (EPA)
An Afghan scrap dealer buy items which were discarded by the US forces outside Bagram Airfield. (EPA)

General Kohistani said the US left behind 3.5 million items including tens of thousands of bottles of water, energy drinks and military ready-made meals. “When you say 3.5 million items, it is every small item, like every phone, every doorknob, every window in every barracks, every door in every barracks,” he said.

The US forces have also left behind thousands of civilian vehicles, many of them without keys to start them, and hundreds of armoured vehicles. General Kohistani said the US also left behind small weapons and ammunition for them, but the departing troops took heavy weapons with them.

Afghan soldiers who were at the base on Monday, however, were critical of how the US troops left in the night without telling the personnel tasked with patrolling the perimeter.

“In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area,” said Afghan soldier Naematullah, who asked that only his one name be used.

Additional reporting by agencies

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