US to hand Bagram base to Afghan forces in 20 days

Published June 2, 2021
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers keep watch outside the Bagram Airfield entrance gate, after an explosion at the NATO air base, north of Kabul, Afghanistan November 12, 2016. Reuters/File
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers keep watch outside the Bagram Airfield entrance gate, after an explosion at the NATO air base, north of Kabul, Afghanistan November 12, 2016. Reuters/File

KABUL: The US military will hand over its main Bagram Air Base to Afghan forces in about 20 days, an official said on Tuesday, as Washington presses on with withdrawing the last of its troops from the country.

The vast base, built by the Soviets in the 1980s, is the biggest military facility used by US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, with tens of thousands of troops stationed there during the peak of America’s military involvement in the violence-wracked country.

“I can confirm we will hand over Bagram Air Base,” a US defence official said without specifying when the transfer would take place.

An Afghan security official said the handover was expected in about 20 days and the defence ministry had set up special committees to manage it.

The base, the centre for nationwide command and air operations for the past two decades, also houses a prison that held thousands of Taliban and jihadist inmates over the years.

Washington has already handed over several military bases to Afghan forces before May 1, when it began accelerating the final withdrawal of troops.

Last month it completed the withdrawal from Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, once the second-largest foreign military base in the country.

The US withdrawal comes despite bloody clashes across the country between the Taliban and Afghan forces.

Peace talks were launched in September in Qatar, but so far have failed to strike any deal to end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people over nearly two decades.

On Tuesday, a group of Afghan government negotiators was headed to Doha in the hope of resuming stalled talks.

“Our team is ready for serious negotiations. There is no military solution to this conflict,” Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Peace, said, adding that no date had been fixed for resuming the talks.

Fawzia Koofi, one of four women negotiators from the government team, said on Twitter that she hoped for a “meaningful and result based negotiation this time to end the bloodshed and suffering of my people”.

“We need to see more willingness and sincerity in the talks as the few months ahead of us are crucial for Afghanistan and the region.” Last month the two sides had agreed to speed up the talks, with the Taliban saying the dialogue would begin after the festival of Eidul Fitr that ended on May 16.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021

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