The Bagram Edition

On bases, economies, and vacuums

Colin here. The US just pulled out of Bagram airbase in Afghanistan after 20 years. It was a middle-of-the-night affair, with forces leaving behind everything from cases of energy drinks, equipment that couldn’t easily be carted out, ammo, and the accumulated debris from two decades of war. Bagram is an airbase, but also a strange cultural hub: it served as a mini-city, featuring US-centric creature comforts like a KFC, swimming pools, spas, and so on. Both the U.S. military and NATO forces are winding down their two-decade-long involvement in Afghanistan and they are expected to bring home all remaining troops by September 11, 2021.

Bagram wasn’t just a military outpost, it had a large economic role in the region. Over the years, thousands of Afghans worked on America’s largest base, and there was a sub-economy of Afghan shops catering to US soldiers, including junk dealers monetizing all sorts of trashed artifacts and scrapyards. 

As the Times covered back in January 2020:

Nowhere has the base’s declining stature in the community been more acute than in the dozens of scrapyards that ring its borders. The mile-long stretch of vendors who buy wood and refuse from base contractors has been an ever-changing ecosystem.

Sayeed Jamal Nasari started his scrapyard with his father 17 years ago, back when the air base was a cluster of makeshift tents and a small number of American soldiers hunting Al Qaeda in the Hindu Kush. His family employed 100 workers, he said, while the base grew. On some days they would offload 15 trucks’ worth of damaged equipment, piping and wood from used pallets and ammunition crates. Detritus from the American war effort was then growing so fast there was not enough space to burn, bury or destroy all of it at once.

Why is this interesting? 

In addition to the huge vacuum of security and stability when handing over such a huge US presence, there are also huge economic consequences. According to a report from Radio Free Afghanistan: 

The international military presence has been a key source of employment for Afghans for nearly 20 years, attracting cooks, cleaners, manual laborers, mechanics, translators, and security guards. Afghan businesses were contracted to supply equipment, fuel, fruits, vegetables, and bottled water. Transport companies ferried supplies to and from bases. Construction companies were employed to build bases, including constructing watchtowers and other facilities. The foreign military presence even altered the country's demographics, with an unpublished United Nations report in 2014 estimating that 11.5 million Afghans -- around 40 percent of the population -- lived within a five-kilometer radius of at least one military base or facility.

The Taliban is aggressively re-taking government-controlled districts since foreign forces began to withdraw in May. Twenty years of military involvement naturally creates a huge ecosystem and economy, and it’s hard to believe that gap will be filled without significantly more hardship and suffering. (CJN)

Photo of the day

Ammo left behind at Bagram. Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) 

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