The Future of Bagram Airfield

Bagram Airbase was my introduction to Afghanistan. It was February 2009 and I was on an epically confused journey from Ramstein to Kabul that ended up taking five days. The first plane stopped to drop passengers at Incirlik and was struck by lightning as it took off again, causing a 24-hour delay. Then, two of our little group got mislaid at Manas AB in Kyrgyzstan and ended up following on a day behind. By the time the C-17 rolled to a stop at Bagram, I was tired, grubby and irritable. Being told there was no chance of a flight to Kabul until next day at the earliest didn’t help. My remaining companion and I wandered off to find the billeting office and find a couple of beds for the night. “What grade are you?” asked the airman on duty. Both of us had left the British military the week before. He’d made it to Petty Officer and I’d climbed as far as Sergeant, both OR-6 grades. “O-3” my colleague answered, straight away. Fast promotion. And it got us space in one of the better tents.

We ended up spending three days at Bagram, mostly hanging round the PAX office trying to scrounge seats, but it wasn’t bad. The PX had a good supply of luxuries and a few books, and there was always the option of heading to the 24-hour DFAC and eating another dozen tacos.

Bagram flight line at dawnBagram wasn’t always as luxurious, though. It was originally built by the USAF in the 1950s, but, when the Soviets intervened in 1979, it was their key staging post. Two Guards Airborne divisions, landed at Bagram, were able to seize most of the capital in a matter of hours. The Soviets carried out a massive expansion of the base, and for most of their presence it hosted a regiment of ground attack aircraft and another of attack helicopters as well as a mechanized division and an airborne regiment.

In 2001, British Naval Special Forces, the SBS, seized Bagram from the Taliban; since then, it’s been back in US hands. While that was scheduled to change under the staged pull-out of NATO forces, the Pentagon is now pushing to hold on to it. As the Soviets demonstrated in 1979, it’s a key asset; it’s far enough from Kabul to be easily secured, but close enough that forces at Bagram can swiftly deploy into the capital. As the Taliban insurgency regains strength and Islamic State begin to make their presence felt in the country, the generals believe the base needs to be held. To keep it, they’re willing to tear up previous deals about future force levels – if it takes more troops then that’s fine, but Bagram has to stay under US control.

It’s hard to disagree with this analysis. A few hundred well-supported troops can hold Bagram against any conceivable attack the Taliban or ISIS could mount against it, but as long as the USA has the base it can move in more assets – whether that’s troops, aviation or strike aircraft – very quickly. Holding on to it is a low-cost solution that gives a lot of flexibility in a key area. Afghanistan isn’t getting much media attention right now because the world’s eyes are on the Middle East, but it’s an unstable state in a potentially explosive region. If the Pentagon wants the base, the US government should let them have it.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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