Pentagon cites security reasons for why precise hour of US withdrawal from Bagram Airfield was not disclosed
WASHINGTON — Senior Afghan officials were told U.S. forces were leaving Bagram Airfield about 48 hours ahead of their departure but the precise hour was left secret for security reasons, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman said Tuesday.
U.S. officials announced Friday that they had completely left Bagram, its biggest airfield in the country and a focal point for military operations in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. Since that time, the Defense Department has faced criticism over reports the Afghanistan base was vacated at night without notice.
“It’s not a statement about whether we trust or don’t trust our Afghan partners. It’s a statement of the fact that we have to consider that this drawdown could be contested by the Taliban, and we have to take that in consideration. It would have been irresponsible [to give the exact time],” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
Bagram’s new Afghan commander, Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, told reporters Monday that he found out nearly two hours after the departure that U.S. troops had left the base. Bagram is the seventh and final base to be turned over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force.
Kirby said top Afghan military and civilian government leadership were notified about the turnover, in the same way that other bases were left to Afghan control as the U.S. withdrawal from the country nears completion. Kirby could not say Tuesday whether Kohistani was notified.
“This wasn’t done in a vacuum. I can’t speak for the level of information that went down the Afghan chain of command, but I can tell you that Afghan leaders, civilian and military, were appropriately coordinated with and briefed about the turnover of Bagram,” he said.
The final discussions occurred about 48 hours prior to the departure and the briefings included a walkthrough of facilities on the base with senior Afghan officials, Kirby said.
Some news reports said the U.S. shut off electricity at Bagram, which allowed looters to enter the base. Some Afghan soldiers have also offered scathing reviews of how the U.S. left the base.
Kirby said he could not provide details on whether electricity was cut off at the base.
Concerns over how Bagram was turned over come as dozens of districts, including a key district in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province, have fallen to the Taliban since May 1, when U.S. and NATO troops officially began to leave the country.
U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that more than 90% of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete.
“We’ll be done by the end of August, but I think it should be logical that as you get smaller, you want to marshal those resources much more carefully as you press forward,” he said.