Locals rushed in and looted laptops, gas canisters and everything they could lay their hands on after US soldiers left the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan over the weekend. According to reports, looters ransacked the now-former American airbase as they left without notifying the new commander from the Kabul government.
Some of the looters were even stopped and arrested, while the base has been cleared, said Darwaish Raufi, a district administrator for Bagram. US military was in control of the Bagram Air Base for nearly 20 years but left without any proper handover of charge to the new Afghan commander of the base.
The United States announced on Friday that it had vacated Bagram as part of a final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. According to the Pentagon, the complete withdrawal of forces will be completed by the end of August. The forces left the base by shutting off the electricity and slipping away without notifying the base's new Afghan commander.
It was almost two hours later that the new commander discovered that but by that time looters had invaded the place, according to Afghanistan's army. Looters hawked basketballs, stereo speakers, laptop computers, bicycles and helmets, desk fans, guitars, and anything else they could get their hands on.
They even managed to ransack barracks and storage tents before security forces who had been patrolling the perimeter managed to evict them.
"We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram ... and finally by seven o'clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram," said new base commander Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani.
However, before the Afghan army could take control, the airfield, barely an hour's drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, it was invaded by a small army of looters, who ransacked everything. It was initially believed that Taliban was behind the looting. "At first we thought maybe they were Taliban," said Abdul Raouf, a soldier of 10 years.
Raouf said the American soldiers called from the Kabul airport and said "we are here at the airport in Kabul."
Leaving Behind a Lot
Bagram is Afghanistan's largest airfield and was the hub of America's 20-year campaign to remove the Taliban from government, track down Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cohorts, and keep the country's fragile elected government in place amid a Taliban resurgence.
On Monday, when Afghan forces opened the airfield to the world's media, which was visited by journalists from Reuters, soldiers were still busy collecting piles of garbage that included empty water bottles, cans and empty energy drinks left behind by the looters.
Also, several scrap dealers and vendors could be seen outside the gates hawking items left behind by the Americans, including basketballs, bicycles and helmets, electric fans, noise-canceling headphones — even laundry detergent.
"They (Americans) are completely out now and everything is under our control, including watchtowers, air traffic and the hospital," a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.
The Americans soldiers also left behind a fleet of sport utility trucks and mine-resistant vehicles as well as a notorious prison and fortified walls.
The airfield also has a prison with about 5,000 prisoners, many of them allegedly Taliban. The Taliban's latest surge comes as the last US and NATO forces pull out of the country. As of last week, most NATO soldiers already had quietly left.