US withdrawal from strategic Afghan base brings ‘degree of humiliation’

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Hundreds of Taliban fighters have been killed in fierce clashes with government forces in several provinces of Afghanistan, officials said Saturday, when Washington announced it would withdraw its troops from the country by the end of August.

Washington’s announcement came after all US and NATO forces left their main air base, Bagram, from where coalition forces conducted operations against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies for 20 years.

“Bagram is the most strategic base in the country. It was built by the Soviets specifically for the occupiers in Afghanistan. So this is the most important military departure, it’s hugely symbolic,” Ashraf Afzal, assistant professor of political science at the University of Nottingham , told FRANCE 24.

One of the key issues now is whether the Afghan national army is strong enough and well prepared to protect the base.

“In terms of capacity, weapons and men, I believe it is strong enough. It’s a tough base to attack, as it is, in an airplane, and there’s very little cover for anyone wanting to invade it,” said Afzal.

“But the will to defend it is something else. The messages I get from people on the ground is that the national army is melting in the face of the Taliban. And I don’t know if there is any will to stand and defend from a basis that will not be of direct benefit to them personally.”

When US President Joe Biden announced details of the retreat, he kept his tone sombre.

“Biden and indeed Trump before him have long recognized that this is a war they have lost,” Afzal said. “They have invested precious money and lives, but they have gained nothing. There is understandably a degree of humiliation now, there is nothing positive that can be taken from this.”

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