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President Ghani meets Miller as US hands Bagram Airfield to Afghan forces after nearly 20 years

KABUL: President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani met with General Scott Miller, Commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, here at the presidential palace yesterday morning, soon after US handed over Bagram Airbase to Afghan forces.

During the meeting, both sides discussed the continuation of US assistance and cooperation with Afghanistan, especially in the field of supporting security and defense forces in the new chapter of relations between Afghanistan and the international community, a presidential palace statement said yesterday.

The meeting came after nearly 20 years, the U.S. military left Bagram Airfield, the epicenter of its war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, two U.S. officials said Friday.

The airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety, they told media on condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

One of the officials also said the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces.”

The withdrawal from Bagram Airfield is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops have left Afghanistan or are nearing a departure, months ahead of President Joe Biden’s promise that they would be gone by Sept. 11.

It was clear soon after the mid-April announcement that the U.S. was ending its “forever war,” that the departure of U.S. soldiers and their estimated 7,000 NATO allies would be nearer to July 4, when America celebrates its Independence Day.

Most NATO soldiers have already quietly exited as of this week. Announcements from several countries analyzed by The Associated Press show that a majority of European troops has now left with little ceremony — a stark contrast to the dramatic and public show of force and unity when NATO allies lined up to back the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The U.S. has refused to say when the last U.S. soldier would leave Afghanistan, citing security concerns, but also the protection of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport is still being negotiated. Turkish and U.S. soldiers currently are protecting the airport. That protection is currently covered under the Resolute Support Mission, which is the military mission being wound down.

Until a new agreement for the airport’s protection is negotiated between Turkey and the Afghan government, and possibly the United States, the Resolute Support mission would appear to have to continue in order to give international troops the legal authority.

The U.S. will also have hundreds of troops in Afghanistan to protect its sprawling embassy in the capital. Their presence it is understood will be covered in a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government.

At its peak, Bagram Airfield saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops pass through its sprawling compound barely an hour’s drive north of the Afghan capital Kabul.

The Kabul Times

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