* Violence escalates as foreign forces rush to leave Afghanistan
* US and NATO withdrawal triggers feelings of abandonment among Afghans
* Afghan forces defend the country alone against the Taliban
KABUL, July 1 (Reuters) – Afghan scrap dealers pick up the rubbish from two decades of US military intervention in Afghanistan, scavenging all they can of value from piles of broken military equipment, discarded machinery and old furniture.
As junkyard scrapers dig through trash outside the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, the Afghan government, and the country as a whole, face the end of an international mission that has promised so much but failed succeeded in bringing peace.
“There is so much rubbish,” said scrap dealer Abdul Ahmad, outside Bagram airfield, about 50 km (31 miles) north of the capital, Kabul, as he inspected the pickings. .
“They haven’t done anything for us since they arrived and now they leave us with an uncertain future and so much destruction.”
During the decades of war in Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base has been a big prize to anyone with the upper hand in the fight.
Now US forces will hand it over to Afghan government forces as they face a growing war with the Taliban and questions swirl over their prospects.
Guards in bulletproof vests still control the heavily fortified entrance to Bagram – a favorite target for suicide bombers over the years – and helicopters slam overhead and an occasional truck comes and goes.
But few remain within the expanse of the prefabricated facilities that grew along the giant runway in the months and years after international forces arrived in late 2001, as the defeated Taliban fled US bombers to the mountains at the Pakistani border.
Two US security officials said this week that the majority of US military personnel would most likely be gone by July 4, with a residual force remaining to protect the embassy.
Many Afghans, like Ahmad, feel abandoned.
Last month, US President Joe Biden told his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, that “the Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want”.
Ghani said his job now was to “deal with the consequences” of the US withdrawal.
This week, General Austin Miller, the top US commander in Afghanistan, admitted that the rapid loss of several districts to the Taliban was worrying. Only “a political settlement” could establish peace between the belligerent Afghans, he said.
“PATH OF DESTRUCTION”
The allies of the United States, mostly NATO members, who have supported its efforts in Afghanistan, are also packing their bags and exiting after a mission which at its peak was hailed as a worthy example. of unity and cooperation, and as a model for its operations.
The German military concluded its withdrawal this week, ending Germany’s deadliest military mission since World War II.
In northern Afghanistan, Camp Marmal was the largest base for the German armed forces outside their homeland. Its once-bustling cafes, gymnasiums, lounges, craft shops, hospitals and entertainment areas are all closed.
German forces shipped the equivalent of around 800 containers of equipment, including armored vehicles, helicopters, weapons and ammunition, to their homes. Even a 27-ton war memorial was dispatched to the German Armed Forces Joint Operations Command in Potsdam.
The base was handed over to Afghan forces.
Brigadier General Ansgar Meyer, commander of German forces in Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview ahead of the German withdrawal that the hospitality of the Afghan people under the most difficult circumstances was something anyone can learn from.
“It is still one of the poorest countries in the world, but the immense kindness with which the Afghans welcome everyone is incredible,” he said. “These are characteristic traits that we in Europe might want to copy.”
For the Taliban, who have been fighting since 2001 to expel foreign forces, the departure of their enemies cannot come soon enough.
“Wherever the invaders went, they left a trail of destruction,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of Western forces, adding that the Taliban remained on their guard in case of last-minute deception.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said that concrete progress had been made over the two decades: “The suppression of a brutal regime, the degradation of Al Qaeda and the improvement. of women’s rights ”.
“But at the end of the day, the record of NATO’s mission is sad and sobering. And the Afghan people who will pay the biggest price for it,” he said. (Edited by Robert Birsel)
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