Abandoning Bagram air base before withdrawing American civilians and Afghan allies was a major tactical mistake, according to senior national security experts, leaving U.S. forces reliant on a civilian airport, with a single runway in the heart of a city controlled by the Taliban.
They said days of chaos could have been avoided if the U.S. evacuation plan included Bagram, 25 miles to the north.
Instead, the world was horrified to watch Afghans dropping from the sky off departing planes while Americans were being told to hunker down at home, and Taliban fighters encircled Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Bill Roggio, a former soldier and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, demanded the resignation of the Centcom Commander U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, who heads the Afghan mission.
‘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 wrote in a Twitter thread dripping with fury.
‘The U.S. military agreed to do this, and it owns what is now happening in Kabul.
‘You do not need to be a West Point and War College grad, or a grand strategist to know this was a recipe for disaster.
‘2nd lieutenants know this plan is a dumpster fire. Our general officer class as a whole is rotten to the core and must be held accountable.’
U.S. troops closed the hub of their Afghan military operations in early July. They slipped out of Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night, turning off the electricity without informing the Afghan commander who was due to take over.
Abandoning Bagram air base before withdrawing American civilians and Afghan allies was a major tactical mistake, according to senior national security experts, leaving U.S. forces reliant on a civilian airport, with a single runway in the heart of a city controlled by the Taliban
Hundreds of people ran alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moved down a runway at the international airport, in Kabul, on Monday. Such scenes have triggered questions about why U.S. commanders did not use Bagram Air Base for the evacuation
People clambered to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kaul as they sought flights to safety. Hundreds of people have spent days on the apron trying to get away
Taliban fighters patrol Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul. The Taliban declared an ‘amnesty’ across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed
The chaotic scenes led analyst Bill Roggio to ask why the airport was being used
On Wednesday, the head of the British armed forces said it was the crucial moment when the Afghan army’s morale crumbled – and national security experts said it should have been part of any evacuation plan.
Charlie Herbert, retired Maj. Gen. in the British Army and former senior NATO adviser to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, said: ‘Simple logic tells you: Don’t rely on a single airhead 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.’
However, he added that U.S. and allied forces would have needed to use more helicopters to ferry people north to Bagram.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla), the first Green Beret elected to Congress, told DailyMail.com that Kabul airport’s proximity to the city was both an advantage and disadvantage.
‘Bagram has a very large airstrip and is located in a much more secure location that could serve as an overflow and additional backup safe zone,’ he said.
‘We were never briefed on any coherent withdrawal plan in Congress and I have serious doubts there were any detailed contingency plans in place.’
Given that this was much the same foreign policy team that handled the withdrawal from Iraq that triggered the rise of ISIS, he added, it was clear they had failed to learn from past experience of underestimating enemies.
U.S. troops slipped out of Bagram Air Base at night on July 2. Afghan forces surrendered to the Taliban on Sunday. Security experts said it should have been the last thing to close as U.S. forces headed home
Bagram was once the hub for the entire U.S. and NATO operation in Afghanistan. An hour’s drive from the Afghan capital it was the epicenter of Operation Enduring Freedom
Vehicles left behind at Bagram Airfield after the American military vacated the base, in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan
Hundreds of people remain around Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul complicating U.S. efforts to bring home nationals and rescue Afghan allies
People wait to be evacuated from Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul on August 18, 2021 following the rapid Taliban takeover of the country.
In this photo provided by the Spanish Defence Ministry and taken in Kabul, Afghanistan, people board a Spanish airforce A400 plane as part of an evacuation plan
Hundreds of people remained outside Kabul’s airport on Wednesday.
Taliban guards demanded to see documents before allowing people inside and when too many people tried to rush the open gates they fired live warning shots.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the 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
‘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,’ he told reporters.
‘We had to collapse one or the other.’
The Biden administration has repeatedly said it prepared for all possible eventualities as it brought troops home.
However, it is under intense pressure to explain how it is going to rescue American nationals and Afghan interpreters and allies amid such chaos.
Nathan Sales, former U.S. ambassador at large and coordinator for counterterrorism, said: ‘If this is what a prepared evacuation looks like I would hate to see what improvisation looks like, because this has all the hallmarks of trying to stitch something together in a crisis.’
Bagram, he added, was not in the middle of a population center or surrounded by mid-rise buildings like the international airport
‘It’s flat terrain as far as the eye can see,’ he said.
‘You can secure the perimeter. You can secure access roads into it.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, defended the decision to close Bagram. He said he only had enough troops to secure the U.S. embassy
It was a catastrophically bad decision to get rid of the assets you need to carry out an orderly evacuation, before you actually carried out the orderly evacuation.’
The U.S. announced its last troops had left Bagram on July 2. It marked the end of the 20-year military operation.
However, it quickly emerged that Afghan commanders had not been warned of the departure.
Even Washington’s allies, often reluctant to publicly voice misgivings, have pointed to the Bagram withdrawal as a pivotal moment.
General Sir Nick Carter, the head of British armed forces, said the removal of foreign support had triggered the abrupt collapse of the Afghan defense forces
Nothing did more damage that the midnight flit from Bagram, he told Sky News.
‘They lost their air power. Now that was a very shattering moment in terms of their morale… ‘ he said.
‘I think what happened from the 4th of July onwards, their morale was shattered.’