Kabul: The United Sates 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.
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.
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.
Foreign troops at risk as occupiers: Taliban
Any foreign troops left in Afghanistan after NATO’s September withdrawal deadline will be at risk as occupiers, the Taliban has told the BBC.
NATO’s 20-year military mission in Afghanistan has all but ended. But violence in the country continues to rise, with the Taliban taking more territory.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said seizing Kabul militarily was “not Taliban policy”.
But speaking to the BBC from the group’s office in Qatar, he said no foreign forces – including military contractors – should remain in the city after the withdrawal was complete.
“If they leave behind their forces against the Doha agreement then in that case it will be the decision of our leadership how we proceed,” Shaheen told the BBC.
Diplomats, NGOs, and other foreign civilians would not be targeted by the Taliban, he insisted, and no ongoing protection force for them as needed.