PAKTIKA, Afghanistan — American troops stationed here shuttered a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan named in honor of slain Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman.
The closure marks the beginning of the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which was set in motion by President Obama.
“It's a soccer field ... kids are already playing on it,” according to one Army officer, referring to the location where the base stood.
Tillman garnered headlines for joining the Army’s Ranger regiment and setting aside a multimillion-dollar NFL contract after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 2004 after being reportedly killed by Taliban insurgents during a mission in eastern Afghanistan.
However, the Pentagon came under fire shortly thereafter when reports surfaced that Tillman was accidentally killed by members of his own unit in a deadly instance of friendly fire.
Tillman’s family and other critics accused the Pentagon of covering up the details of his death for fear it would deter the war effort in Afghanistan.
The closure of the base named after Tillman is one of dozens U.S. combat commanders here are carrying out, as American forces prepare to pull all combat troops from the country by 2014.
American commanders have already handed over a total of four U.S. military outposts in Paktika and neighboring Ghazni province to the ANA, according to Lt. Col. Scott Thomas, the deputy commander for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
The brigade combat team, dubbed Task Force Dragon, is preparing to hand over another four to five U.S. bases to Afghan forces by April, he added.
In neighboring Khost province, U.S. forces are planning to shutter over a dozen bases by year's end, according to the top U.S. commander there.
Col. Tim Sullivan, deputy commanding officer of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said the closures were part of “an aggressive plan” to meet the Obama administration's withdrawal deadline.
Sullivan's combat team, known as Task Force Rakkisan, is part of the remaining 68,000 set to rotate out of the country over the next year and a half.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to discuss the Pentagon's troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 with Gen. John Allen this week.
Allen, the top commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is expected to request a 10,000-troop force to remain in the country post-2014, according to recent reports.