© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a checkpoint near the US Bagram airbase on the day the last US troops left it, Parwan province, Afghanistan, July 2, 2021. REUTERS / Mohammad Ismail
KABUL (Reuters) – As US troops left their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, marking the symbolic end of the longest war in US history, locals living in the shadow of the base and in nearby Kabul they stayed ruining the past and preparing for what comes next.
Violence has spread across Afghanistan in the weeks since President Joe Biden announced that troops would be unconditionally withdrawn before 9/11.
With peace talks in Qatar choppy, and about a quarter of the country’s districts have fallen to the Taliban in recent weeks, according to a study, many worry that chaos is coming.
Malek Mir, a mechanic in Bagram who watched the Soviet army and then the Americans come and go, said he was left with a deep sense of sadness at the futility of a foreign presence.
“They came with bombing the Taliban and got rid of their regime, but now they left when the Taliban are so empowered that they will take power soon,” he said.
“What was the point of all the destruction, carnage and misery they brought us? I wish they never came.”
More than 3,500 foreign soldiers have died in a two-decade war, which has claimed more than 100,000 civilians since 2009 alone, according to United Nations records.
Some, however, say that the presence of foreign troops distorted Afghanistan’s economy and that it is time for the country to sustain itself.
“The Americans leave a legacy of failure, they have failed to contain the Taliban and corruption,” said Sayed Naqibullah, a shop owner in Bagram. “A small percentage of Afghans became so rich, while the vast majority still live in extreme poverty.
“In a way, we are happy that they are gone … We are Afghans and we will find our way.”
In the nearby capital, the news was a new reminder of the growing panic that has gripped many parts of Afghan society, particularly in urban areas, since Biden announced the withdrawal in April.
“All people are concerned that if foreign forces leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will take over. So what will we do?” asked Zumarai Wafa, a merchant from Kabul.
Wafa and others described a slump in business and signs that many urban residents were trying to flee the country, with hundreds of people lining up outside embassies seeking visas.
The 22-year-old medical student Muzhda, who asked to be identified by a single name for security reasons, said her family had decided to leave the country due to deteriorating security.
She said she wondered what future awaited women if the Taliban returned to power and restricted access to education for women, as they did during their previous time in power.
The Taliban say they have changed and will make provisions for women’s rights in accordance with cultural traditions and religious norms.
Still, Muzhda said she feels deprived and disappointed by the American departure.
“The withdrawal of foreign troops in the current situation is irrational,” he said. “It is now clear that the Americans came here for their own purposes, not to help and cooperate with Afghanistan.”
“I am very sad and disappointed, I had many dreams that will not come true.”