On July 1, with little warning and no public ceremony, US forces abandoned the sprawling Bagram Air Base, the center of a 20-year US war effort in Afghanistan. Six weeks later, on 15 August, Taliban fighters broke into the base and freed thousands of prisoners – including senior Taliban and al Qaeda men – from a prison complex in Bagram.
A base that was once a crowded city, home to thousands of soldiers, is now a desolate ruin. Within the concrete blast walls of Bagram, a bedroom unit of Taliban fighters guards the empty prison, once the site where US forces detained thousands of people suspected of being insurgents, often without charge or trial. for the long term. Guard camps amid mountains of rubble and personal belongings left behind by prisoners and damaged equipment left behind by American and Afghan government forces.
Several Taliban guards recently allowed photographer David Guttenfelder to tour the prison, where he climbed into chambers littered with clothing, notebooks, drawings, toilet items and garbage. Among the items were shoes made from orange prison uniforms. The photographer entered the chambers through torn holes in the prison walls and ran the prisoners open.
In prison yards and walkways, Mr Guttenfelder encountered uniforms, helmets, riot shields, handcuffs and other items left behind by Afghan government guards. The United States handed over the hideout to Afghan forces in July.
The prison, known as the Detention Facility in Parwan, was built by the United States in 2009. It replaced a nearby detention center in Bagram, known as the Bagram Collection Point, where detainees faced abusive behavior at the base. US military pathologists ruled that two detainees died in 2002 beatings in US custody.
While the Parwan facility provided more humane conditions for prisoners, it became the source of violent protests in February 2012, leading to the deaths of Afghans and Americans after US troops burned Qurans seized from prisoners.
The United States transferred the Parwan detention facility to the control of the Afghan government in 2013, after over 3,000 Afghan prisoners were transferred to Afghan custody.
In 2019, the United Nations reported that the facility, under the control of the Afghan National Army, was overcrowded and that solitary confinement was being used as a form of discipline.
When US forces captured Bagram Air Base in late 2001, it was an abandoned wreck fought by the Taliban and US-backed Northern Alliance militias. The base was first constructed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and served as a center for Soviet military operations for a decade before troops withdrew in 1989.
Rebuilt by the US military, Bagram spread to a home away from home for thousands of American and NATO soldiers. He ate at American fast-food restaurants and bought electronics, T-shirts and groceries at a giant post exchange. They dine on pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream in one of the many well-stocked DFACs, or dining facilities.
From two long runways, American fighter jets flew day and night to support the American war effort and, later, US-backed Afghan government troops and police.
Today the base and prison are quiet. Taliban guards said Bagram was controlled by two Taliban commanders, one with 500 men and the other with 200 men.
Members of a unit of prison guards, Helmand province, said they were looking forward to seeing Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, for the first time. Men work from a cargo container and sleep on mattresses atop a wooden pallet. Some spend their time picking up trash from concertina wire, cleaning a facility that is their temporary home.
One guard said he would rather help fellow Afghans guarding an abandoned prison, rather than elsewhere in Afghanistan. Another argued that the United States had spent billions of dollars on grounds and prisons that could be used for humanitarian projects.