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Bagram Airbase: Significance And The Recent Exit Of US

Hello Defence Lovers, We know that US troops are going to leave Afghanistan before September 11. As a part of this retreat, US forces left Bagram airbase in Afghanistan last week. Forces left the airbase and moved to Kabul. This move is a very important milestone in an emerging volatile situation in Afghanistan. We have already discussed what may happen in Afghanistan after US withdrawal. The things are unfolding now.

In this article, we will understand what happened at Bagram last week. We will understand the history and strategic importance of the Bagram airbase. Also, we will try to understand the possible implications of this move to the US.

What Happened On July 2?

US troops left the base on 2nd July. But the way of exit was much unusual. As per some news reports, troops left the base at the night. They even didn’t inform in advance the local administration and the Afghan security forces. The news of the US troop’s exit spread and local people entered the base. They started looting the things left-back by forces. It was after hours of looting that the Afghan forces arrived and took control of the airbase. Clearly, the manner in which the US forces left the base is much similar to the hasty and irresponsible manner in which the US government is withdrawing from Afghanistan. However, the base is currently under the control of Afghan security forces.

bagram military base
Bagram military base

History Of Bagram Airbase

The Soviet Union built an airstrip at Bagram in the 1950s. This was the cold war period. Thus the US also got involved and improved relations with Afghanistan rulers. In 1978, a coup happened. People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) came to power. This was a Marxist-Leninist party that enjoyed Soviet support. But the situation was unstable. To control rebel elements USSR sent in armoured units to secure the Bagram airfield and other bases.

Finally, in 1979 Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. For the next 10 years, Bagram was the main base of operations for Soviet forces. Airborne troops were deployed here. Su-25 performed missions. In 1989, USSR left Afghanistan and another period of instability started. In 1991, the Afghan government of Najibullah lost the Bagram airbase to the Northern alliance. The airbase saw intense fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban throughout the 1990s.

After 9/11, US forces landed in Bagram. IAF planes like IL-76 also landed there with supplies for the Northern Alliance, which was supported by India, Iran, and Russia. During the US occupation, more forces kept coming and the base increased in size and capabilities. A new runway was constructed. By 2009, this base could accommodate 10,000 soldiers.

Strategic Significance Of The Bagram Airbase

Bagram Airbase map
Bagram Airbase map

Bagram is in Parwan province of Afghanistan. It is situated 60 km north of Kabul. It is the key to controlling the major part of Afghanistan. The airbase has a 3000 m long runway. Another runway around 3500 m long was constructed by the US. Thus any type of aircraft can land here.

The strategic importance of the base is evident from the visits of every US President since the US entered Afghanistan. George Bust visited Bagram airbase in March 2006. Barack Obama visited in March 2010, December 2010, and May 2014. Trump visited in November 2019. This indicates the importance of the Bagram airbase in the US operations in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama meeting troops stationed at Bagram airbase
Barack Obama meeting troops stationed at Bagram airbase

Possible Implications Of The Current US Move

Leaving Bagram airbase is a symbolic end of US military presence in Afghanistan. This will further add to uncertainty and anxiety in Afghanistan. The Taliban will gain its stronghold over remaining territories. For instance, just on the day after this US move, 13 districts in Takhar, Paktia, Badakshan, and Kandahar province fell to the Taliban.

US commander in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller has expressed his concerns that a civil war may start after US withdrawal. His fears are coming true as local mujahideen are also picking up weapons against the Taliban. Also, the Taliban is rapidly capturing new territories. Till now it is believed that the Taliban controls around 1/3rd of Afghanistan’s territory. As per the latest claims by the Taliban, it controls 85% of the country’s territory. There is fear that the Afghan government may fall and the Taliban may capture urban centers also in just a few weeks after US withdrawal. Clearly, this will not be a good time for Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Indian Angle

Implications For India

This new development will, directly and indirectly, impact India-

  1. India has invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan on various developmental projects. With retreat of US and advent of Taliban, this investment is in danger.
  2. Security of Indian nationals in Afghanistan- Recently there were reports of warning to Indian nationals in Afghanistan about their possible abduction. Now the Government of India has decided to evacuate them.
  3. Indirectly, Taliban rule in Afghanistan poses threat to India’s security in Kashmir. Intrusion of trained terrorists may surge again if Taliban comes to power.

How Can India Respond?

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is currently in Russia. On his way to Moscow, he stopped in Tehran and met the Iranian president-elect. He also interacted with his Iranian counterpart and held discussions about Afghanistan. Yesterday in Russia, he stated that India and Russia will work together for Afghan peace. Thus we can speculate that India is having some framework in making with other countries like Russia and Iran. Incidentally, these are the countries that supported the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s. So is there Northern Alliance 2.0 coming up? Well, it will be a little early to comment on anything until things are clear.

As of now, India can do the following things.

  1. Increase support to Afghan government in military training and weapons.
  2. Engage in talks with Taliban to safeguard Indian investments in Afghanistan. Recently Taliban assured China that it won’t damage Chinese CPEC project. India can also get similar assurance.
  3. Talk with like minded countries and make a consensus about future action in Afghanistan.
  4. AS a member of UNSC, India can push forward a proposal for intervention of UN to establish ceasefire and stop violence in Afghanistan.
  5. If required, a joint peace keeping force under UN flag can be sent in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a heaven for terrorists again.

Conclusion

The situation in Afghanistan is quite volatile. Taliban is rapidly gaining territory and power while the government is losing it. The US is leaving Afghanistan to enter into another period of turmoil. There is a need for urgent international efforts to save Afghanistan. We will keep watch and keep posting new developments in Afghanistan here.

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Prasad Gore

A defence enthusiast. Writing on Defence, Aviation and International Relations. M.A., NET (Defence and strategic studies).

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