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Lt. Col. Atiqullah Tarin, a recruiter for the Afghan army, speaks to Nasir Rahimi, in Charikar, Afghanistan June 5, 2021. Rahimi reenlisted as part of a drive to find 1,500 troops to replace departing U.S. and NATO troops at Bagram Airfield.
Lt. Col. Atiqullah Tarin, a recruiter for the Afghan army, speaks to Nasir Rahimi, in Charikar, Afghanistan June 5, 2021. Rahimi reenlisted as part of a drive to find 1,500 troops to replace departing U.S. and NATO troops at Bagram Airfield. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The Afghan army has launched a recruitment drive to maintain Bagram Airfield as coalition troops prepare to depart the sprawling base in the coming weeks.

Lt. Col. Atiqullah Tarin, a recruiter for the Afghan military in the province that houses Bagram — the largest U.S. base in the country — said he had been ordered last week to sign up about 1,500 new soldiers within the next month. 

The drive comes after an acceleration of base closures since May, the official start of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The pullout is set to end by Sept. 11, but most foreign troops are expected to leave the country well in advance. 

Before May 1, there were 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops in the country and about 7,000 from NATO allies and other coalition members.

A line of trucks drives out a gate at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on June 5, 2021. A surge of containers and junk have been trucked out of Bagram since May, residents near the base said.
A line of trucks drives out a gate at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on June 5, 2021. A surge of containers and junk have been trucked out of Bagram since May, residents near the base said. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
A shipping container that belonged to the U.S. Army sits in a field near cows at a farm outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. A surge of containers and junk have been trucked out of Bagram since May, residents near the base said June 5, 2021.
A shipping container that belonged to the U.S. Army sits in a field near cows at a farm outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. A surge of containers and junk have been trucked out of Bagram since May, residents near the base said June 5, 2021. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. and NATO forces are expected to hand over Bagram Airfield to the Afghan military in about 20 days, or by the end of this month, district governor Lalasherin Darwish Raufi told Stars and Stripes on Saturday. Local officials have also been told to help the military find recruits to defend Bagram, he said.

The base’s transition to the Afghan military is ongoing, said Fazludin Ayar, governor for Parwan province.  

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said last week in Washington that it was “slightly ahead” of its withdrawal schedule, with more than a third completed.

In the town surrounding Bagram, lines of trucks carrying containers filled with trash left one of Bagram’s gates Saturday afternoon. The trucks empty their trash in yards where workers pick through the refuse hoping to find items to sell, or copper and iron to recycle. 

Boots like those issued by the U.S. military and a football are displayed prominently at a shop outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, June 5, 2021. None of the shopkeepers said they knew what the American football was for.
Boots like those issued by the U.S. military and a football are displayed prominently at a shop outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, June 5, 2021. None of the shopkeepers said they knew what the American football was for. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Items such as basketballs thrown out by U.S. and NATO troops departing Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, are available for sale at shops outside the base June 5, 2021.
Items such as basketballs thrown out by U.S. and NATO troops departing Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, are available for sale at shops outside the base June 5, 2021. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
A shopkeeper outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, sells books thrown out by departing U.S. and NATO troops June 5, 2021. Items too heavy or expensive to ship back home are often discarded.
A shopkeeper outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, sells books thrown out by departing U.S. and NATO troops June 5, 2021. Items too heavy or expensive to ship back home are often discarded. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Workers at a trash yard outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, displayed an Xbox controller for driving games on a special table June 5, 2021. A surge of containers and junk have been trucked out of Bagram since May, residents near the base said.
Workers at a trash yard outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, displayed an Xbox controller for driving games on a special table June 5, 2021. A surge of containers and junk have been trucked out of Bagram since May, residents near the base said. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
A helmet from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, sits in front of a pile of ruined helmets at a trash yard outside the base June 5, 2021. Departing U.S. and NATO troops have crushed most of their discarded trash.
A helmet from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, sits in front of a pile of ruined helmets at a trash yard outside the base June 5, 2021. Departing U.S. and NATO troops have crushed most of their discarded trash. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
A small fridge containing the coat of arms of the U.S. Armys 16th Infantry Regiment, and the Latin motto, Semper Paratus, meaning Always Ready, lies slightly crushed at a trash yard outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan June 5, 2021.
A small fridge containing the coat of arms of the U.S. Armys 16th Infantry Regiment, and the Latin motto, Semper Paratus, meaning Always Ready, lies slightly crushed at a trash yard outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan June 5, 2021. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Workers at trash yards near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan pick through garbage from the base June 5, 2021. While many of the items leaving the base have been crushed or ruined, some have copper or iron that can be recycled and resold.
Workers at trash yards near Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan pick through garbage from the base June 5, 2021. While many of the items leaving the base have been crushed or ruined, some have copper or iron that can be recycled and resold. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

Before May 1, only one or two trucks a day left Bagram, said Sayed Wali, a worker at one trash yard. Now as many as 10 to 20 trucks leave the base every day, he said. 

Shopkeepers also said they noticed an uptick in trucks with goods leaving Bagram over the last month. 

Some residents said they feared that if the Taliban comes to power after the U.S. and NATO leave, there will be problems for the people who worked with foreign troops at Bagram. The area had an unclaimed bombing that killed three passengers on a bus carrying teachers two weeks ago. 

Mohammed Daoud, 14, wears U.S. military goggles as he scavenges trash left behind by U.S. and NATO troops as they pack up from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Workers at trash yards pick through garbage that leaves the base on trucks, but said troops have been careful to destroy most things.
Mohammed Daoud, 14, wears U.S. military goggles as he scavenges trash left behind by U.S. and NATO troops as they pack up from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Workers at trash yards pick through garbage that leaves the base on trucks, but said troops have been careful to destroy most things. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

A garrison of 1,500 troops should be enough to help secure the base after the U.S. and NATO leave, said the recruiter Tarin, a longtime officer who walks with a limp from wounds suffered in a land mine explosion.  

Leaders will come from elsewhere in the Afghan military. Tarin said the 1,500 troops would most likely just hold the base and not leave for operations. 

Around 19,000 troops have died and have been registered for death benefits over the last two years, the Afghan government told Stars and Stripes in February.

The Afghan military aims to recruit 47,000 troops each year, the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report said. 

In Parwan, 84 people from the province volunteered in the two days since the order, Tarin said.

The recruiter said he is prioritizing former soldiers who won’t need to undergo basic training. He is also keeping tabs on fresh recruits who are willing to secure Bagram, in case he can't find enough veterans before the deadline.

One recruit, Nasir Rahimi, 28, said he formerly served in the Afghan military. After his contract with the army expired four months ago, he was unemployed. He rejoined after he saw the difficulties faced by friends who tried to find work in countries like Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, he said. 

“The country needs us now,” Rahimi said. “We are hopeful that there will be peace in the country.” 

lawrence.jp@stripes.com 

Twitter: @jplawrence3  

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