US aircraft at Bagram air field in Afghanistan

Abandoning Bagram Airbase Was A 'Major Tactical Mistake'

US aircraft at Bagram air field in Afghanistan

As the evacuation mission from Kabul continues, the desperate scenes outside the city's main international airport have led to many speculating how long it will continue and how to help people if the security situation breaks down. 

Criticism has been growing both sides of the Atlantic.

Bill Roggio, a former US soldier and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is among those angry at the evacuation operation.

He said on social media: "You do not put your primary evacuation airstrip at an airport inside a city with 4.5 million people and an untold number of refugees." 

He says abandoning Bagram airbase was a "major tactical mistake" and calls for the resignation of the US Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, who is heading the Afghan mission.

"The US military agreed to do this, and it owns what is now happening in Kabul," he said. 

The way the evacuation operation is unfolding in Kabul has left people questioning why Bagram Airbase was not used for the evacuation.  

The base, some 30 miles north of Kabul, was the US main hub in the country up until 2 July, when troops left overnight without warning, cutting off the electricity as they went. 

The Afghan commander for Bagram, General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, reportedly wasn't told of the move and learnt the next day after looters stormed through the unprotected gates before local forces regained control. 

At the time the Taliban welcomed the departure, saying it was "a positive step" – no doubt seeing it as a sure sign, the clearest indicator up to that point, that the final 2,500 US troops were nearing departure. 

Bagram Airbase
Bagram Airbase in 2018 (Picture: US Air Force).

General Sir Nick Carter, the head of British Armed Forces, told Sky News it was "a very shattering moment" for the morale of Afghan forces. 

Bagram Airbase was built in the 1950s by the Soviets and came under US and NATO control in 2001.

In its heyday, more than 100,000 US troops passed through its compound which had parking spots for 110 aircraft, three large hangars, a control tower and support buildings, including a 50-bed hospital and prison.  

Unlike Kabul, Bagram also has two runways – the most recent is 12,000ft long and was built at a cost of $96m (£69m).  

Tobias Ellwood, a veteran, Conservative MP and Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, is among those critical of the way UK and US forces have withdrawn from the country and says Bagram should have been used for the evacuation.  

On social media, he commented: "The folly of our withdrawal begins to unfold. Kabul airport will soon be overwhelmed – ending the evacuation effort.

"Serious thought should be given to re-opening the larger, more secure Bagram military airbase, to the north, giving more time for fixed-wing aircraft to function."

Charlie Herbert, a retired British Army Major General and former senior NATO adviser to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, agreed, adding: "Simple logic tells you: Don't rely on a single airfield to run an evacuation.

"There's no doubt about it, with hindsight, it would have made more sense to have retained Bagram until the very last moment."

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said his orders were to secure the embassy and that he did not have sufficient troops to also keep Bagram open.

He told reporters: "If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going that would be a significant number of military forces, that would have exceeded what we had."

The US are believed to be considering air bridges to extract Americans trapped outside of Kabul – but even if Bagram could come back into play, the problem remains that the Taliban are now controlling checkpoints and it's unclear how much longer they will let people through. 

If you or someone you know needs support at this time, you can find more information by visiting the British Army website and the Government's website.

Further details about support available can be found on our website.

Cover image: Library image (Picture: US Department of Defense).

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