Bagram, Afghanistan: After the U.S. military retreated without notifying them, the Afghan soldiers guarding Bagram Air Force Base left thousands of Taliban prisoners and were convinced that the enemy would launch an attack.
This huge military complex was once home to tens of thousands of American and Allied soldiers, and it was also one of the most important locations for prosecuting Afghanistan’s two-year war.
But the last group of American soldiers quietly left the base last week, effectively completing the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and leaving behind a huge security vacuum that the Afghan army will not be able to fill.
General Mirasadura Kosistani, the new commander of the Bagram base, spoke frankly about the challenges ahead on Monday as reporters visited the largely empty base.
“You know, if we compare ourselves with the Americans, it’s a big difference,” Kohistani said, admitting his forces could not be as “powerful” as the Americans.
“But according to our capabilities… we are trying to do the best and as much as possible secure and serve all the people.”
The lack of a clear handover or transition plan appears to have made the task even more challenging.
Kohistani said he only knew of the foreign forces’ exit after they had left.
“We did not know of their timeline for departure. They did not tell us when they left.”
Just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Kabul, the base is key to the security of the capital while also providing strategic cover to much of the country’s rugged north where the Taliban have focused their recent offensives.
Kohistani insists his troops can hold the base from the Taliban, and that he has “quite enough” soldiers.
Though, with roughly 3,000 troops under his command, the figure is a tiny percentage of the number of American and allied forces during its US-led heyday.
For the US military, the lively mini-city at that time had swimming pools, movie theaters, spas, and fast food restaurants of Burger King and Pizza Hut, and morale was high.
For the people of Kohistani, entertainment venues are closed, warehouses are locked, and closed dining facilities only emit the stench of rotten food in boxes of expired meal packs.
On Monday, 1,000 soldiers fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan fled to neighboring Tajikistan, a more concrete indication of the ability of the Afghan army to fight without U.S. support.