Dozens of looters on Friday ransacked America’s largest base in Afghanistan, taking advantage of a chaotic handover that saw US troops leave for the final time without fully informing local security forces.
Bagram air base was transferred to Afghan control after having been America’s main military hub in the country for two decades.
The 30-square mile base an hour’s drive north of Kabul once held tens of thousands of US troops and contractors, but was handed over in the early hours of Friday in one of the final steps of the US withdrawal.
The US expects to withdraw all its troops by the end of August, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Friday. The original deadline was September 11.
Joe Biden, the US president, cut off questions about Afghanistan at the White House, saying: "I want to talk about happy things, man.
"Look, it’s the Fourth of July… it’s a holiday weekend, I’m going to celebrate it."
Mr Biden had answered several questions about Afghanistan, saying the withdrawal was "on track" and would not be done in the next few days.
After cutting off questions on Afghanistan, Mr Biden said he would at a later time "answer all your negative questions. Not negative, your legitimate questions."
However, the rapid withdrawal of men has prompted accusations the US and its Nato allies are leaving an ill-prepared Afghan government to fend off a sudden Taliban advance.
Afghan officials complained they had not been informed of the departure from Bagram and the base was left unsecured, allowing a crowd of around 100 to ransack several buildings before control was regained.
Sherin Darwish Raufi, district governor, said: “After they left, around 100 people entered Bagram and started looting many things. We stopped them.”
US Army equipment being moved out of Bagram
Credit: U.S. Army/Sgt. Jeffery J. Harris/Handout via REUTERS
“American soldiers should share information with the Afghan government, especially local officials, but they didn’t let me know,” he said.
British military sources told the Telegraph that UK and American forces could be gone from Afghanistan as early as Sunday. A contingent of around 650 US troops will remain to guard the American embassy and Turkish troops will guard the airport.
The withdrawal was a “sorry moment for Western grand strategy,” and would see terrorist groups prosper according to a former Chief of the Defence Staff.
Lord Richards, who led the Nato security force in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, told the BBC : “We’ve lost the plot here. A country that we promised a huge amount to now faces … almost certain civil war, with the likelihood that the Taliban will get back to where they were in 2001, occupying most of the major cities and the majority of the country.”
He said he felt bitter on the behalf of British troops who had been killed or maimed.
“I know the military are often blamed for being over optimistic, but we are the first people to acknowledge that you don’t win wars in the long-term through military means alone. The inability of nations to put in the economic and political effort … is at the heart of this failure.”
An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at Bagram on the day of the departure
Pizza Hut, KFC, car dealerships and jewellers used to lie inside the gates of Bagram, while thousands of planes left tire-marks across the two runways. The base also held a notorious prison.
By Friday evening not only was it empty but here were reported to be no American troops outside the capital.
Mr Biden decided to leave America’s longest conflict after concluding it was a quagmire and the country posed less of a threat as an international terrorist haven.
The Bagram withdrawal was welcomed by the Taliban, who have shocked America and Kabul by seizing dozens of rural district centres since the final pull-out began two months ago.
“We consider the evacuation of all US forces from Bagram a positive step and seek the withdrawal of foreign forces from all parts of the country,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents.
“Afghans can move closer to peace and security with complete withdrawal of foreign forces.”
Yet the Taliban continue to snub peace talks and reject calls for a ceasefire.
Lord Richards said: “We are now going to see the growth of a very unstable Afghanistan … in which scores will be settled and some very unpleasant terrorist groups are likely to be able to prosper and start planning again. If that happens, then let this be on the conscience of all those leaders who have failed to show the stomach and sagacity to hold on a little bit longer in Afghanistan.”