As the US faces a protracted and deadly struggle to evacuate its citizens and allies from Afghanistan, questions are swirling about why the military abandoned the capable and secure Bagram airfield — just 40 miles from Kabul’s besieged airport.
Dissent among the rank and file has been simmering. In a viral social media post Friday, Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller denounced military brass for the decision.
“Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, ‘Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone’? Did anyone do that?” he fumed.
Scheller was swiftly relieved of his duties.
“I think the Taliban demanded [the closure of Bagram]. I think that was part of the deal that Biden made. The Taliban threatened to start fighting again and then Biden got scared,” said Jim Hanson, a former army special forces vet and now President of the Security Studies Group.
“It’s up to the Taliban now who actually gets out of the country, We have outsourced the TSA function of the airport to the Taliban,” Hanson added, saying the Kabul airport — exposed and with only one runway — was a perilously inferior staging base for the evacuations currently underway.
Both Biden and military leaders have approached the Bagram situation gingerly.
“They concluded — the military — that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so, I followed that recommendation,” Biden said Thursday.
But at a briefing last week Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a different version.
“If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces,” Milley said. “So we had to collapse one or the other, and a decision was made.”