Bagram is the seventh and last of military bases the US has handed over to Afghan forces as it winds down its presence there of two decades and leave much ahead of the self-imposed deadline of September 11.
The United Sates on Tuesday said the Bagram base was turned over after discussions and coordination at “higher levels” in both the Afghanistan government and forces and disputed an Afghan commander’s account of Americans leaving quietly in the night without notifying anyone.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the “final conversations” with the Afghans took place 48 hours prior and there had been a “general understanding and again, as we got closer, more detail was provided to Afghan leaders”.
But, he conceded, “we didn’t go into the exact hour at which all US would leave Bagram” for operational security reasons.
A top Afghan general who is the new commander of the Bagram base, Mir Asadullah Kohistani, had told reporters earlier, “We (had heard) some rumour that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally, by seven o’clock in the morning [last Friday], we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram.”
Asked about the Afghan commander’s remarks, Kirby said, “I can’t speak for the level of information that went down the Afghan chain of command, but I can tell you that Afghan leaders, civilian and military, were appropriately coordinated with and briefed about the turnover.”
Kirby said these conversations with Afghans included a walk-through of the Bagram base to give them a preview of what was being turned over to them.
Bagram is the seventh and last of such bases the US has handed over to Afghan forces as it winds down its military presence there of two decades and leave much ahead of the self-imposed deadline of September 11 announced by President Joe Biden.
A smaller number of US military personnel will be stationed in Afghanistan to provide security to the sprawling American diplomatic compound in Kabul and guard the Kabul airport till Turkish forces take over at the conclusion of a final agreement currently in discussion.
The US Central Command, which has military jurisdiction over US deployment in Afghanistan, has said 90% of the drawdown has been finished.
The US has said it is also watching closely the tightening military grip of the Taliban on the country. Though it has declined to change its drawdown schedule or slow it down, the US has said politically negotiated settlement is the only way forward in Afghanistan, and not a military solution.
State department spokesperson said at a separate briefing that “any Afghan government that comes to power at the barrel of a gun, that comes to power through the use of force, is almost certainly going to lack … critical ingredients” that will be needed – international assistance, international legitimacy and popular support of the Afghan people.
The Taliban have sought to assure the world of their commitment to a negotiated settlement but have stalled talks till the US forces are out. The last round that was supposed to take place in Istanbul, Turkey was never held.
As an important stakeholder in Afghan peace, India has watched US drawdown with some concern. On a recent US visit, external affairs minister S Jaishankar attributed US drawdown to “political expediency”. And at a UNSC debate, he reiterated India’s call for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in Afghanistan and for the United Nations to play a leading role.