The last American troops are expected to leave Bagram Air Base on Friday, as the base gets turned over to Afghan forces.

The U.S. withdrawal, after nearly 20 years, marks the end of the American presence at the enormous compound. Bagram Air Base once saw thousands of troops pass through and was the hub of all U.S. military activity in Afghanistan. 

At its peak in 2011, the U.S. had nearly 100,000 troops and 35,000 contractors in Afghanistan. Soon that number will be zero. The full withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country could be completed by this week.

The handover of Bagram Air Base to the Afghan military proceeded quietly with little fanfare, although a ceremony is planned for Saturday to mark the turnover. 

The Rise and Fall of Bagram Air Base

The End of an Era Has Come: US Leaves Bagram Air Base
A C-5A sits on the tarmac at Bagram Air Base during the peak of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. (Wikipedia photo)

Once, the base boasted 36 flags, representing the different countries of the coalition. Now only the American and British flags remain after the other contingents left quietly this week.

However, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the forces.”

The sprawling base, with all of the improvements that the Americans did to it, is now likely to fall into the same disrepair as when the troops first arrived in 2001.

The Soviets first built an airfield in Bagram in the 1950s. But by the time the U.S. arrived, the infrastructure was crumbling as the Taliban did little to keep it maintained after the Soviets had withdrawn in 1989