KABUL, Afghanistan—American troops and their Western allies have departed Bagram, Afghanistan’s largest air base, officials said on Friday, turning over to the Afghan government the sprawling outpost from which the United States waged war for nearly two decades.
With little fanfare and no public ceremony, American troops left the base on Thursday night, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The Afghan military “will protect the base and use it to combat terrorism,” said Fawad Aman, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense.
The closure of Bagram, a symbol of America’s costly adventure in Afghanistan, comes just weeks before the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops, who entered the country in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The U.S. will leave a contingent of 650 troops to protect the United States Embassy in Kabul, the country’s capital.
The departure comes at a perilous time for Afghanistan. Some U.S. intelligence estimates predict that the Afghan government could fall to its rivals, the Taliban, in as little as six months after the Americans complete their withdrawal.
With a line of snow-capped mountains as its backdrop, the Bagram airfield was built in the 1950s by the Soviet Union. It became a vital military hub during the Soviets’ 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.
In 2001, the United States inherited rubble at the Bagram site, after the years of war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. In January 2002, when the first American killed by enemy fire, Sgt. 1st Class Nathan R. Chapman, was sent home, there were no American flags to drape on his casket, so a flag patch from someone’s uniform had to suffice.
By 2011, at the height of the war, the base had ballooned into a small city, with two runaways, tens of thousands of occupants, shops and a U.S. military prison that became notorious for its use as a C.I.A. black site.