BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The twisted remains of several all-terrain vehicles leaned precariously inside Baba Mir’s sprawling scrapyard, alongside smashed shards that were once generators, tank tracks that have been dismantled into chunks of metal, and mountains of tents reduced to sliced up fabric.
It’s all U.S. military equipment. The Americans are dismantling their portion of nearby Bagram Air Base, their largest remaining outpost in Afghanistan, and anything that they are not taking home or giving to the Afghan military, they destroy as completely as possible.
They do so as a security measure, to ensure equipment doesn’t fall into militant hands. But to Mir and the dozens of other scrap sellers around Bagram, it’s an infuriating waste.
“What they are doing is a betrayal of Afghans. They should leave,” said Mir. “Like they have destroyed this vehicle, they have destroyed us.”
As the last few thousand U.S. and NATO troops head out the door, ending their own 20-year war in Afghanistan, they are deep into a massive logistical undertaking, packing up bases around the country. They leave behind an Afghan population where many are deeply frustrated and angry. They feel abandoned to a legacy they blame at least in part on the Americans — a deeply corrupt U.S.-backed government and growing instability that could burst into brutal new phase of civil war.
The bitterness of the scrapyard owners is only a small part of that, and it’s somewhat self-interested: they’re angry in part because they could have profited more selling intact equipment. But it’s been a common theme for the past two traumatic and destructive decades where actions the U.S. touted as necessary or beneficial only disillusioned Afghans who felt the repercussions.
At Bagram, northwest of the capital Kabul, and other bases, U.S. forces are inventorying equipment that will be returned to America. Tens of thousands of metal containers, about 20 feet long, are being shipped out on C-17 cargo planes or by road through Pakistan and Central Asia. As of last week, 60 C-17s packed with equipment had already left Afghanistan.
Officials are being secretive about what stays and what goes. Most of what is being shipped home is sensitive equipment never intended to stay behind, say U.S. Defence and Western officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely about departing troops.
Other equipment including helicopters, military vehicles, weapons and ammunition will be handed over to Afghanistan’s National Defence and Security Forces. Some bases will be given to them as well. One of those most recently handed over was the New Antonik base in Helmand province, where Taliban are said to control roughly 80 percent of the rural area.
Destined for the scrap heap are equipment and vehicles that can neither be repaired nor transferred to Afghanistan’s security forces because of poor condition.
So far about 1,300 pieces of equipment have been destroyed, said a U.S. military statement. There will be more before the final deadline for departure on Sept. 11, said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.