Beijing Looking to Occupy Bagram Airfield via Ruling Taliban: Report

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General view of the tarmac inside the Bagram Airfield after all U.S. and NATO troops withdrew on July 5, 2021. Reports say the Chinese Communist Party is looking to plant roots in Bagram by way of a ruling Taliban government.
General view of the tarmac inside the Bagram Airfield after all U.S. and NATO troops withdrew on July 5, 2021. Reports say the Chinese Communist Party is looking to plant roots in Bagram by way of a ruling Taliban government. (Image: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is looking to deploy personnel and set up a supply route in the formerly U.S.-controlled Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan under the blessings of an established Taliban government, according to a new report. 

A Sept. 7 article by media outlet U.S. News said, “The Chinese military is currently conducting a feasibility study about the effect of sending workers, soldiers and other staff related to its foreign economic investment program known as the Belt and Road Initiative in the coming years to Bagra.” 

The outlet relied on “a source briefed on the study by Chinese military officials” that spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

The source was further paraphrased as saying, “However, the current consideration in Beijing is not for any pending movements, rather a potential deployment as long as two years from now.”

“And it would not encompass taking over the base but rather sending personnel and supplies at the invitation of the government in Kabul – and certainly after the Taliban secures its rule.”

Beijing officially denied the report was true. Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, claimed the story is “a piece of purely false information” in comments to reporters the same day.

First built in 1976, Bagram Airfield is a key military base near Kabul that became a focal point in the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The position was captured by the United States 20 years ago during the invasion of Afghanistan, and was controlled until President Joe Biden ordered the site handed off to the former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) on July 1 in advance of a total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.

A brewing storm

At the end of August, a transcript of a call between Biden and former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that took place in late July was leaked to Reuters. The call revealed Ghani had informed Washington that Afghanistan was facing a “full-scale invasion” by the Taliban.

Biden responded by telling Ghani that “there is a need to project a different picture” to the world and emphasized public relations optics, “But I really think, I don’t know whether you’re aware, just how much the perception around the world is that this is looking like a losing proposition, which it is not, not that it necessarily is that.”

Ghani replied, “Mr. President, we are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this, so that dimension needs to be taken account of.”

An Afghan National Army soldier takes a selfie inside the Bagram Airfield after all U.S. and NATO troops withdrew on July 5, 2021. Former President Ashraf Ghani told Joe Biden Afghanistan was under “full-scale invasion” by the Taliban with Pakistani support at the end of July.
An Afghan National Army soldier takes a selfie inside the Bagram Airfield after all U.S. and NATO troops withdrew on July 5, 2021. Former President Ashraf Ghani told Joe Biden Afghanistan was under “full-scale invasion” by the Taliban with Pakistani support at the end of July. (Image: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

An Aug. 28 article by The Washington Post chronicled the events surrounding the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul when President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who were both on vacation at the time, faced a sudden crisis when the ANDSF surrendered several key checkpoints to the Taliban.

Blinken negotiated a plan with Ghani the night before described as a “U.S.-brokered arrangement with the Taliban in which the militants would remain outside Kabul if the Afghan leader would step aside as an interim government took charge.”

The interim government plan was “aimed at forming an inclusive government that involved the Taliban, as well as others.”

Sources told The Post the “inclusive government” project was derailed when Ghani suddenly fled the country with his wife via helicopter after being fed false intelligence from advisors that the Taliban had entered the Presidential Palace and were looking to take his head.

The Taliban were reportedly actually positioned outside of Kabul as a result of Blinken’s negotiations.

After Ghani fled, U.S. CENTCOM Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie met with the Taliban in person in Doha, where Washington was offered a surprising olive branch by Chief Political Advisor Abdul Ghani Baradar, “We have a problem,” said Baradar.

“We have two options to deal with it: You [the United States military] take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.”

But, according to The Washington Post, Biden rejected the option to secure Kabul until the withdrawal was complete, instead opting to control only the city’s airport. 

Pakistan proxy

Yun Sun, Director of the China program at the Stimson Center, told U.S. News that she believed Beijing was eager to “get their hands on whatever the U.S. has left at the base.”

She added, “If the Taliban requests Chinese assistance, I think China will be inclined to send human support. Most likely, they will frame it as technical support or logistic support. There are precedents of that regarding foreign military bases. But a Chinese takeover is unlikely.”

Sun also said she believes the Party may utilize neighboring Pakistan, a signatory to the CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure and debt trap project, to satisfy its desire to fortify Bagram.

“But if feasible, I am sure they would like to cut out the middleman,” Sun added.

In comments made at the end of August, former Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who has declared himself the rightful President under the country’s 2004 Constitution and remains in the country, declared the Taliban as merely a “proxy group” for Pakistan

Saleh also said the ISIS-K terrorist organization, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. soldiers, was actually rooted in the Taliban, “Every evidence we have in hand shows that [ISIS-K terrorist] cells have their roots in Talibs [Taliban] & Haqqani network particularly the ones operating in Kabul,” Saleh said on Twitter. 

The Haqqani Network is a notable connection. U.S. News reports in their article that the Taliban revealed on Sept. 7 that “its newly formed government will include as interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, the scion of the notorious Pakistan-based Haqqani Network terrorist group.”

The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center calls the Haqqani Network “The most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group targeting US, Coalition, and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.”

An Aug. 30 article by Newsline quoted Anas Haqqani, son of Haqqani Network founder Jalaludin, as bluntly saying, “We are the Taliban,” in an effort to dispel accusations that the Network was a branch of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. 

As the free world withdrew from Afghanistan, reports emerged that Al Isha special forces, a branch of the Haqqani Network, had seized control of several thousand U.S. military-grade biometric scanners and a database that included as many as 25 million Afghani’s biometric data left behind in the botched U.S. troop withdrawal, and was using the asset to hunt NATO allies. 

Too close for comfort

In 2015, Melanie Hart, the Biden Administration’s China Policy Coordinator for the Office of the Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, during her time with the Center for American Progress (CAP), co-authored a paper between the CAP and the China-United States Exchange Foundation, and a notorious CCP United Front Work Department arm, advocating for, “A comprehensive exchange of ideas on areas of potential cooperation and common interest between the United States and China on the topic of the Middle East.”

The paper directly called for the United States to utilize its New Silk Road (NSR) project in the Middle East to help Beijing install the BRI in the region, “The NSR’s north-south work should serve as a foundation and opportunity for the Belt and Road projects in Central Asia, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” read the report.

The authors fixed their gaze on the “wealth of hydrocarbon resources across the Central Asian states and the growing demands in Afghanistan and Pakistan for energy to drive economic development.”

“Both NSR and the Belt and Road initiative offer significant investments that can bolster Afghanistan’s economic sustainability…If the Belt and Road initiative and the NSR work in tandem, they can complete large, concrete projects in the region,” it continued.

“As the Belt and Road initiative gains momentum, it has the opportunity to bring unprecedented infrastructure and economic connectivity to Central Asia, Pakistan, and in particular Afghanistan. Yet the depth of need in the region is extraordinary. The Belt and Road initiative and the NSR are more likely to succeed and generate significant returns if they complement one another rather than compete for the same resources.”

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.