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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF ATTACKS USING US WEAPONS FOLLOWING US WITHDRAWAL FROM BAGRAM AIRFIELD

Updated: Jul 9

Team: CENTCOM

Week of: Monday, July 5, 2021


Bagram Airfield[1]


The Counterterrorism Group is issuing a FLASH ALERT to the United States and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, specifically in the areas of Bagram Airfield, Kabul, and Baghlan, to the increased risk posed by the Taliban and Taliban-affiliated groups. The Current CTG threat matrix indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that these groups have obtained U.S. weapons, vehicles, or equipment following looting at Bagram Airfield after U.S. forces left the base without notifying Afghan officials. The Current CTG threat matrix also indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that these groups will use these weapons to continue attacks on Afghan forces. This assessment is based on the fact that looters arrived at the airfield before Afghan forces.[2] It is unclear what remained at the base or what was taken by looters, however, there is a video from July 4, 2021 showing that the Taliban has seized hundreds of trucks, armored vehicles, and artillery from Afghan forces that were left by American forces. It is not fully clear if these weapons were specifically seized from Bagram, however, it showcases the Taliban’s access to American weapons from looters or by overrunning Afghan National Army (ANA) bases.


For the US to meet the September 11, 2021 deadline of full withdrawal from Afghanistan, US forces officially left the Bagram Airfield. They departed at 0300 local time on Friday, within 20 minutes of shutting off the electricity. Bagram’s newest commander, General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, confirmed that all US troops have departed from the airfield, while other Afghan military officials stated that the US did not notify Afghan officials of their departure.[3] Following the departure, teams of unidentified looters entered the airfield and began to ransack storage tents and barracks before Afghan security forces evicted them and secured the area. It is reported that the US left behind 3.5 million items, including civilian and armored vehicles.[4] Taliban-linked looters may have taken small arms and ammunition left by US troops, which is likely to indirectly contribute to helping the Taliban consolidate control of Afghanistan by force.


Despite Afghan forces’ preoccupation battling the Taliban, they are now left behind with a prison hosting 5,000 detainees that were previously under US control, which is likely to divert ANA manpower from fighting to prisoner control. Thus, it is highly likely that the Taliban and other extremist groups will use the newly acquired weapons from Bagram to conduct attacks throughout the country. It is highly likely that Afghan forces will not have an effective means of preventing this as they grapple with the ever-evolving situation at hand. It is also likely that these imminent attacks will be directed towards US and Afghan forces, further weakening the grit of the Afghan government in combating the Taliban and other non-state actor groups. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers have already fled the country for Tajikistan, and with the high possibility of the Taliban accumulating more weapons, soldiers are likely to continue to flee rather than fight. The strengthening of the Taliban with the simultaneous weakening of Afghan forces is clear; this is likely indicative of a grim future for Afghanistan as districts continue to fall under Taliban control.


It is unclear why the US did not notify Afghan forces before leaving the base. One likely possibility is that they may have done so to prevent any attack directed towards US forces by the Taliban pre-departure. Due to widespread information dissemination and mistrust towards the Afghan forces, it is likely that had the US warned Afghan forces of their departure, the Taliban likely would have also been alerted, which could have led to an escalation of violence perpetrated by the Taliban. The lack of communication could be due to mid-level military leaders’ focus on leaving Bagram, in addition to increased pressure from higher-level command up to the President, which likely led them to forget to notify ANA leadership. High-level US commanders likely assumed the ANA knew US timelines and did not confirm they had the appropriate resources to assume control of Bagram after US troops withdrew. With such a focus on ending the 20-year war, US leadership likely did not see Afghanistan as a priority and directed their attention towards other matters. The lack of notification before leaving Bagram Airfield is likely to be a strong indication of the Middle East’s rapidly decreasing priority for policymakers. America’s inattention to issues that have become growingly important in Afghanistan as well as its unprecedented and unforthcoming withdrawal is comparable to the abrupt end of US support for the Mujahideen in the years after the Soviet Union withdrawal in 1989.[5] However, press reports have indicated that a transfer-of-power ceremony between the Americans and the Afghan government was scheduled and it is unclear if or when it occurred.[6] It is probable that in their frustration over the US’ departure, Afghan leadership falsely claimed that they were not notified to highlight American disloyalty to the world. Already focused on other geostrategic issues like China, the US likely has not corrected them to mitigate diplomatic or military tension and to avoid weakening the Afghan government’s fragile legitimacy.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) CENTCOM Team recommends that US forces, embassies, and personnel in Afghanistan remain vigilant and consistently conduct counter-IED operations in order to protect themselves and civilians. CTG CENTCOM Team also recommends that Afghan forces and personnel remain cautious and continue to conduct counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and other terrorist groups while trying to prevent any more districts from falling to the Taliban. Afghanistan may need to request help from the UN following the end of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on September 17th, 2021. It is unclear whether any Western forces, such as the US, will be returning to Afghanistan if the situation worsens and the government falls to the hands of the Taliban, potentially leading to state failure. It might be time for other Western countries, such as the UK and France, to intervene if the situation continues to deteriorate.


CONCLUSION


CTG assesses that the current threat of attacks by the Taliban and other affiliated groups or militias using US weapons is HIGH. Our analysis indicates that increased violence against US military and Afghan forces by these groups in existing arenas of conflict throughout Afghanistan is HIGH given the fact that there have been unprecedented periods of intense clashing between the Taliban and Afghan forces for the last two months. The probability is HIGH that the Taliban will use these American weapons obtained from overrun bases to aid their ambition of taking control of more districts throughout Afghanistan, and eventually the entire country.


If any individuals are interested in learning more about security measures to protect their facilities and personnel, please contact The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-248 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

[1]Bagram Airfield” by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse licensed under Public Domain

[2] Bagram Airfield looted as US forces slip away in the night from Afghan base, New York Post, July 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/07/05/bagram-airfield-looted-as-us-forces-leave-afghan-base/

[3] US left Bagram without telling new commander: Afghan officials, Al Jazeera, July 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/5/us-left-bagram-airfield-without-notice-afghan-officials-say

[4] US left Afghan airfield at night, didn't tell new commander, The Independent, July 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/us-left-afghan-airfield-at-night-didnt-tell-new-commander-afghan-taliban-kabul-bagram-airfield-nato-b1878550.html

[5] Soviets begin withdrawal from Afghanistan, History, July 2021, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-begin-withdrawal-from-afghanistan

[6] US forces leave Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase after 20 years, Al-Jazeera, July 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/2/us-bagram-airbase-afghanistan-taliban


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