Pentagon defends Bagram exit after reports Afghan commander was left in the dark

Pentagon defends Bagram exit after reports Afghan commander was left in the dark
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The Pentagon on Tuesday defended its departure from Bagram Airfield after reports emerged that the U.S. left in the dead of night, shutting off electricity without coordinating a handover and temporarily leaving the base to looters.

Pentagon press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyPentagon chief orders review of deadly drone strike in Afghanistan DHS asks Pentagon to help move migrants from Del Rio, Texas The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Pfizer deems COVID vaccine 'safe' for children 5+ MORE said he had seen the press reports but insisted there was “coordination with Afghan leaders, both in the government, as well as in the Afghan security forces, about the eventual turnover.”

“As you know, it was the seventh and the final base that we turned over to the Afghan National Security Forces. You don't do that in a vacuum, and this wasn't done in a vacuum,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

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He added that while he can't speak for the level of information that went down the Afghan chain of command, “Afghan leaders, civilian and military, were appropriately coordinated with and briefed about the turnover” of the base, including a walk-through of facilities with “senior Afghan leaders.” 

The Associated Press earlier on Tuesday reported that when the U.S. military left Bagram early Friday they did so by shutting off the electricity and leaving in the dark, without notifying the base's new Afghan commander. 

The commander reportedly discovered the absence more than two hours later. Before the Afghan army could take control of the airfield — from which U.S. forces have fought the war in Afghanistan for the past 20 years — it was invaded by a small army of looters, Afghan military officials told the AP.

The U.S. military also reportedly left behind thousands of civilian vehicles, most without keys to start them, hundreds of armored vehicles and small weapons and the ammunition for them.

Kirby said the final conversation and coordination about the turnover at Bagram occurred about 48 hours prior to U.S. troops leaving.

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“Obviously, for operational security reasons, we didn't go into the exact hour at which all U.S. forces would leave Bagram,” he said. 

When asked which senior Afghan leaders U.S. officials had coordinated with, he referred questions to the staff of Army Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan who is preparing to turn over his command to U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie.

Kirby also confirmed “there were some vehicles obviously left behind and some turned over to Afghan officials,” but said it was not uncommon compared to turnovers of other facilities in the country. In addition, throughout the drawdown, “a few hundred small arms and ammunition were transferred” to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

The Pentagon on Tuesday said the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is “more than 90 percent” completed, but has said the final withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be done until late August.