Hundreds of Taliban fighters have been killed in fierce battles with government forces across several provinces of Afghanistan, officials said Saturday, as Washington announced it would finish withdrawing its troops from the country by the end of August.
Washington's announcement came after all US and NATO troops vacated their main Bagram Air Base, from where the coalition forces led operations for two decades against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.
"Bagram is the most strategic base in the country. It was built by the Soviets specifically for the occupational forces in Afghanistan. So this is the most significant military departure, it is hugely symbolic," Ashraf Afzal, assistant professor of politics at University of Nottingham, told FRANCE 24.
One of the key issues now is whether or not Afghanistan's national army is strong enough and well-enough prepared to protect the base?
"In terms of capability, weapons and men, I believe it is strong enough. It is a difficult base to attack, as it is, in a plane, and there is very little in the way of cover for anybody wanting to invade it," Afzal said.
"But the will to defend it is a different thing. The reports that I am getting from people on the ground is that the national army is melting away in the face of the Taliban. And I don't know if there is any will to stand and defend a base that isn't going to be of direct use to them personally."
When US President Joe Biden announced details of the retreat, he kept his tone sombre.
"Biden and indeed Trump before him have long recognised that this is a war which they have lost," said Afzal. "They have invested precious money and lives but they have gained nothing. There is understandably now a degree of humiliation, there's nothing positive to be taken away from any of this."
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