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AP Exclusive: US leaves Bagram base; Afghans left in the dark

A member of the Afghan security forces walks in the sprawling Bagram air base after the American military departed, in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 5, 2021. The U.S. left Afghanistan's Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years, winding up its "forever war," in the night, without notifying the new Afghan commander until more than two hours after they slipped away. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

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AP was quick to deliver an all-formats look — and an exclusive — from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan after the U.S. departure from the base that served for nearly 20 years as the epicenter of America’s war to unseat the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaida.

Media around the world were watching for the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram, but Kathy Gannon broke news. Gannon, AP’s Afghanistan/Pakistan news director with decades of hard-won experience in the region, pressed for access to the base after the U.S. military’s July 2 departure. Joined by Kabul-based video journalist Mohammed Amin and photographer Rahmat Gul, the trio were granted access on July 5 and arrived to provide a rare glimpse of what had been the largest U.S. military base in the country.

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Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the new commander of Bagram Airfield, speaks during an interview with the AP at the base north of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021. – AP Photo / Rahmat Gul

But that access was only one element of the story. The new Afghan commander of Bagram was initially reluctant to share details about how he and his troops took control of the base. Gannon told him there had been rumors about looting, and with her persistent questioning, the commander finally shared the full story: U.S. troops left quietly, switched off the lights and never bothered to tell the Afghan military that they were gone. The gap of two hours between the U.S. departure and the arrival of the Afghan military at Bagram enabled looters to sneak into the once heavily guarded base.

The story made a splash,with Gannon fielding interview requests from major news outlets to describe what she had seen and heard at Bagram. The Pentagon,facing criticism after Gannon’s story appeared,later said the Afghans had been informed two days in advance of the U.S. intention to leave,but that the precise hour was left secret for security reasons. The team’s all-formats reporting provided an early look at the post-U.S. era in Afghanistan, in a package that was stunning for its detail and news value.

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Three days after the U.S. military left the base, vehicles are parked at Bagram Airfield in Parwan province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021. – AP Photo / Rahmat Gul
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