Almost two months back in July, the US abandoned the Bagram Airbase in the middle of the night, cutting off the electricity supply and leaving without even informing the new Afghan commander, Mir Asadullah Kohistani, of their departure.
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Their sudden departure had not just shocked the Afghan military patrolling the outer periphery of the base but also the world as they turned off the power, prompting a security lapse that allowed looters to scavenge the facilities before Afghan troops were able to regain control.
Now, three months after the US departure satellite imagery suggests the possible presence of foreign aircraft on the Bagram airbase.
There are also reports quoting local residents as claiming that they have seen the lights turned on at the airbase, which had remained a major hub for the US and the NATO-led coalition in the country for nearly 20 years.
“The lights were switched on again at Bagram air force base. There were some voices heard at the base. A plane has also been seen there,” Business Standard quotes a TOLOnews report. The obvious question of who is sending the jets at the airbase lies open to debate.
The China Angle
China seems to be at the end of the needle of suspicion owing to the increased interest it has shown in establishing ties with the new Taliban government on several occasions.
The Chinese extending a warm welcome to a visiting Taliban delegation in Tianjin just before the Islamist insurgents took over Kabul had shown China’s intention to make deep inroads into the war-ravaged country.
Official #Chinese denials of interest in ex-U.S. #Bagram air base are suspicious, Yun Sun tells @DailyMail. "Given their past experience, the Chinese must be eager to get their hands on whatever the US has left at the base." https://t.co/QTKvh6C8SQ
— Stimson East Asia (@Stimson_EAsia) October 4, 2021
There is speculation that Beijing could be weighing on deploying its military at the Bagram Airfield. It is no surprise that China would lend a hand in the guise of infrastructure investment projects and seek to start creating a potential deployment for as long as two years at the airbase.
Lights have been switched on at #Bagram airbase and there are reports of foreign aircrafts spotted inside. Perhaps the Chinese! @MPPregent pic.twitter.com/vOU7rcecof
— AJ News Club (@ajnewsclub) October 2, 2021
Although the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman denied reports of Beijing discussing a deal with the Taliban to hand over the former US airbase in Afghanistan, Daily Mail reports of several aircraft landing at Bagram hours after the lights were switched on.
Pakistan’s clandestine support to the Taliban since the beginning makes it a highly probable source of the foreign aircraft said to be landing at the airbase. Pakistan’s Prime Minister declaring that the Taliban were “breaking the chains of slavery” after the seizure of Kabul displayed the historic support the two have shared over the years.
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Both Pakistani civilians, as well as military leaders, have tried convincing the international community to support the Taliban instead of isolating them and to a certain extent influence the new government ensuring the Taliban do not end up being pro-India.
A stake in Afghan’s military and internal affairs is essential for Pakistan and starting off with deployment at the Bagram Airbase seems plausible.
#American troops left mighty BAGRAM AIRBASE in Afghanistan on Friday, under an agreement with the Taliban allowing for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country after a 20year war. Base will be officially handed over on 3rd July 2021 in a ceremony#Afghanistan#peace pic.twitter.com/xODc1KVqUz
— Sumaira Khan (@sumrkhan1) July 2, 2021
The chances of the United States sending in their aircraft seem bleak for several reasons. The hasty, yet determined departure at the dead of the night in July; Biden’s statement claiming that the US had only gone to Afghanistan to ensure it can never be used again to launch an attack on his homeland; and that the US involvement in Afghanistan’s affairs didn’t serve the American national interest anymore are some of the reasons which do not support any possibility of the US’ re-entry into the base.
On the contrary, Washington has shown interest in operating offshore to counter China’s dominance either from warships or perhaps an ally’s airbase.
With the satellite imagery in question, TheDrive points out some chronologically confusing details. It said there are silhouettes of what appear to be tactical aircraft such as F-15s and F-16s painted on the ground in aircraft revetments on the southeastern side of the field. They are few in number and randomly placed.
Satellite imagery contradicts reports of foreign aircraft at #Bagram Air Base #Afghanistan https://t.co/Z88GF5I9we
— Robert Capa (@sykespicot) October 4, 2021
The report further said that these silhouettes appear to have been painted in recent years and are not relics of prior Taliban rule or Soviet occupation or anything like that.
While more information and clearer details of the satellite images are awaited, who will be in control of the Bagram Airbase now that the facility is back in operation is something that time will tell.
- Safiya Khanam is a Muscat-based journalist with a deep interest in Geopolitics, Defense, and Foreign Affairs. She can be reached at [email protected]
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