By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, July 2 (EFE).- The United States military has vacated the Bagram Airfield, a US official said Friday, moving a step closer to completely hand over to the Afghan government the largest defense facility that served as a nerve center in the two decades of war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
“Yes, all coalition forces are off Bagram,” the US defense official told EFE, strictly asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
However, the official did not specify if it meant that the last of the foreign troops had left the base, located 50 km (31 miles) north of Kabul.
“It is important to note General (Austin S.) Miller still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the force,” the official said, referring to the US top commander in Afghanistan.
“I would also stay away from speculation that the withdrawal will be complete over the coming weekend (or) by the 4th of July. I do not anticipate we will have any announcements over the weekend,” he said.
It comes months ahead of US President Joe Biden’s promise his government would call back its last soldier from Afghanistan by Sep.11.
As per the plans unveiled in April by Afghan authorities, the military facility was supposed to be the last to be handed over to the local forces for the final withdrawal of American and NATO troops.
The Afghan government confirmed that all coalition and American troops had the airbase on Thursday night.
“The base was handed over to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. The ANDSF will protect the base and use it to combat terrorism,” defense ministry spokesperson Fawad Aman told EFE.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said they had received information about the US troops leaving the base.
“We call it a good step and it paves the way for arrival and establishment of peace in Afghans. (It) is in the interest of the United States and Afghans that all foreign forces leave the country. We welcome this,” Mujahid told EFE.
The military base was the most important airfield for the US forces and was under their control for the past two decades of air operations against insurgents in Afghanistan.
The foreign troops used the facility to launch airstrikes against the Taliban and other militant groups in the rugged country of mountains.
It became the headquarters for US Special Operations troops in the two decades of US military presence in Afghanistan.
It once stationed about 100,000 US and coalition forces during the peak of the so-called “war on terror” in 2012.
Nearly all visiting US top officials, particularly US presidents, would land and spend time at the airbase during their Afghan visits.
Taliban fighters launched many attacks in the past two decades to damage the base, but it remained the safest center for the US forces.
Biden announced in April that he would withdraw his nearly 3,500 troops from Afghanistan by Sep.11 this year to symbolically mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against the US by Al Qaeda.
The decision came after weeks of reviewing the historic agreement between Washington and the Taliban in February last year in Doha during the then-president Donald Trump administration.