Bagram Airfield also known as Bagram Air Base  (IATA: OAI, ICAO: OAIX) is the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. It is located next to the ancient city of Bagram, 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) southeast of Charikar in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan. It has a dual runway capable of handling any size military aircraft, including Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy and Antonov An-225. Bagram Air Base is occupied by the Afghan Armed Forces and the US-led Resolute Support Mission.
Bagram Airfield is currently maintained by the Combined Joint Task Force 1st Cavalry Division (CJTF-1), having taken over from the 10th Mountain Division in the summer of 2016. It is also maintained by the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade (Task Force Pale Horse) and 3-10 GSAB (Task Force Phoenix) of the U.S. Army, with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing of the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, and ISAF units having sizable tenant populations. In addition, the U.S. government regional platform for the east is at the base, staffed by civilians.
The ICAO ID is OAIX and it is specifically at 34.944N, 69.259E at 1,492 metres (4,895 ft) above sea level. One of Bagram's runways is 3,003 metres (9,852 ft) long and the other is 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) long, which was built and completed by the United States in late 2006. There are a number of large hangars, a control tower, numerous support buildings, and various housing areas. There are also more than 32 acres (130,000 m²) of ramp space and five aircraft dispersal areas, with over 110 revetments. Many support buildings and base housing built by the Soviet Armed Forces during their occupation were destroyed by years of fighting between various warring Afghan factions after the Soviets left. New barracks and office buildings are being constructed at the present time, and the base is slowly expanding.
The Kabul International Airport is about 40 km (25 mi) south of Bagram, connected by two separate roads. Also, the Parwan Detention Facility is located somewhere around the base at Bagram. It has been criticized in the past for its abusive treatment of prisoners. In May 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross revealed that since August 2009 it was informed about inmates of a second prison where detainees are held in isolation and without access to the International Red Cross that is usually guaranteed to all prisoners.
The airport at Bagram was originally built in the 1950s, during the Cold War, at a time when the United States and neighboring Soviet Union were busy spreading influence in Afghanistan. While the United States was focusing on Afghanistan, the Soviets were busy with the Island of Cuba and Fidel Castro. In 1959, a year after Afghan Prime Minister Daud Khan toured the United States, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower landed at Bagram where he was greeted by King Zahir Shah and Daoud Khan among other Afghan officials.
The present runway, 10,000 foot long, was built in 1976. The airport at Bagram was maintained by the Afghan Air Force (AAF) with some support from the United States. During the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, it played a key role, serving as a base of operations for troops and supplies. Bagram was also the initial staging point for the invading Soviet forces at the beginning of the conflict, with elements of two Soviet Airborne Troops' divisions being deployed there. Aircraft based at Bagram, including the 368th Assault Aviation Regiment flying Su-25s, provided close air support for Soviet and Afghan troops in the field. The 368th Assault Aviation Regiment was stationed at Bagram from October 1986 to November 1987.
Some of the Soviet land forces based at Bagram included the 108th Motor Rifle Division and the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment of the 105th Guards Airborne Division. Following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces and the rise of the Western-funded and Pakistani-trained mujahideen rebels, Afghanistan plunged into civil war.
Control of the base was contested from 1999 onward between the Northern Alliance and Taliban, often with each controlling territory on opposing ends of the base. Taliban forces were consistently within artillery and mortar range of the field, denying full possession of the strategic facility to the Northern Alliance. Press reports indicated that at times a Northern Alliance general was using the bombed-out control tower as an observation post and as a location to brief journalists, with his headquarters nearby.
Reports also indicated that Northern Alliance rocket attacks on Kabul had been staged from Bagram, possibly with Russian-made FROG-7 Rockets. In 2000, the Taliban took over control and forced the Northern Alliance to retreat further to the north.
During the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the base was secured by a team from the British Special Boat Service. By early December 2001 troops from the 10th Mountain Division shared the base with Special Operations Command officers from MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, and a small communications team of the 11th Signal Brigade out of Fort Huachuca. The British force consisted of B and C Companies from 40 Commando, Royal Marines. As of mid-December 2001 more than 300 US troops, mainly with the 10th Mountain Division, were providing force protection at Bagram. The troops patrolled the base perimeter, guarded the front gate, and cleared the runway of explosive ordnance. As of early January 2002 the number of 10th Mountain Division troops had grown to about 400 soldiers.
As of late January 2002, there were somewhere around 4,000 US troops in Afghanistan, of which about 3,000 were at Kandahar International Airport, and about 500 were stationed at Bagram. The runway began to be repaired by US, Italian and Polish military personnel. By mid-June 2002, Bagram Airfield was serving as home to more than 7,000 US and other armed services. Numerous tent areas house the troops based there, including one named Viper City. It was reported that "Bagram came under daily rocket attack" in 2002 even though most of these attacks went unreported by the press. Landmines have also been a serious concern in and around Bagram Airfield.
By late 2003 B-huts, 18-by-36-foot structures made of plywood designed to hold eight troops, were replacing the standard shelter option for troops. There were several hundred, with plans to build close to 800 of them. The plans were to have nearly 1,200 structures built by 2006, but completion of the project was expected much earlier; possibly by July 2004. The increased construction fell under US Central Command standards of temporary housing and allowed for the building of B-huts on base, not to show permanence, but to raise the standard for troops serving here. The wooden structures have no concrete foundation thus not considered permanent housing, just an upgrade from the tents, the only option Bagram personnel and troops had seen previously. The small homes offer troops protection from environmental conditions including wind, snow, sand and cold. During 2005, a USO facility was built and named after former pro football player and United States Army Ranger, Pat Tillman.
A second runway, 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) long, was built and completed by the United States in late 2006, at a cost of US$68 million. This new runway is 497 metres (1,631 ft) longer than the previous one and 280 millimetres (11 in) thicker, giving it the ability to land larger aircraft, such as the C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, Il-76, An-124, An-225 or the Boeing 747 (which is used by civilian cargo airlines).
By 2007 Bagram has become the size of a small town, with traffic jams and many commercial shops selling goods from clothes to food. The base itself is situated high up in the mountains and sees temperatures drop to −29 °C (−20 °F). Due to the height and snow storms commercial aircraft have difficulty landing there, and older aircraft often rely on very experienced crews in order to be able to land there. The base was able to house 10,000 troops in 2009.
In October 2009 The State reported on Bagram's expansion. It reported that Bagram was currently undergoing $200 million USD expansion projects, and called the Airfield a "boom town". According to the article: "Official U.S. policy is not to create a permanent occupation force in Afghanistan. But it is clear from what's happening at Bagram Airfield—the Afghan end of the Charleston-to-Afghanistan lifeline—that the U.S. military won't be packing up soon." In November 2009, construction of the Parwan Detention Facility was completed. It houses about 3,000 inmates, mostly insurgents who are fighting against Afghanistan and NATO-led forces.
In March 2010, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) installed 150 solar powered lights to address reports of sexual assaults at the base. Eight reported sexual assaults occurred at the base in 2009 involving Airmen; the U.S. Army's sexual assault response team reported treating 45 victims in 2009. The report revealed that most victims knew their attacker.
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The 2007 Bagram Airfield bombing was a suicide attack that killed up to 23 people and injured 20 more, at a time when Dick Cheney, then Vice-President of the United States, was visiting Afghanistan. The attack occurred inside one of the security gates surrounding the heavily guarded base. Yousef Ahmadi, one of the Taliban spokesmen, claimed responsibility for the attack and said that Cheney was the intended target. Another Taliban spokesman later confirmed that Osama Bin Laden planned the attack, and reiterated that Cheney was the intended target. This claim is supported by the relatively limited number of large suicide bombings carried out in Afghanistan, combined with the intensity of this particular attack, and the fact that Cheney was at the base. Cheney was unharmed from the attack, however. Among the dead were a US soldier, a US contractor, a South Korean soldier, and 20 Afghan workers at the base.
In 2008, several U.S. servicemembers were accused of accepting bribes for the award of building contracts on Bagram. Four of the Afghans have also faced charges, while three of them have been held as material witnesses. The GIs are reported to have received over 100,000 dollars in bribes.
In March 2009, a car bomb exploded outside the gates of Bagram Airfield facilities, wounding three civilian workers. In June 2009, two US soldiers were killed and at least six other personnel were wounded during an early morning rocket attack.
In March 2010, insurgents attacked an area at the base with rockets. One of the rockets landed next to a B-Hut in a camp located on the west side of the base killing a Bosnian national, who was working at Bagram as a contract firefighter.
In May 2010, a group of "nearly a dozen" insurgents attacked around the north end of the base. The assault left one U.S. contractor dead while nine service members were reported wounded. A spokesman for Bagram said a building was slightly damaged during attack. Taliban spokesman claimed 20 armed men wearing suicide vests attacked the base with four detonating explosives at the entrances, but the military spokesman said they failed "to breach the perimeter" and were "unable to detonate their suicide vests." The attackers were dressed in U.S. Army uniforms.
Early on the morning of 30 December 2010, Taliban militants fired two rockets on Bagram though no casualties were reported. The insurgents claimed responsibility for the incident. It should be noted that in the attacks on the base, most insurgents end up getting killed while some are wounded and become prisoners. After the 2012 Afghanistan Quran burning protests the United States decided to transfer the running of the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), although the Americans will have access to the facility and will have the power to veto which inmate is released.
On Thanksgiving evening, 2013, a rocket attack killed 2 civilian contractors as they slept in their B hut on the southern part of the field.
The Heathe N. Craig Joint Theater Hospital on the base is 50 bed military hospital named after SSG Heathe N. Craig, a United States Army medic who died while trying to save a wounded comrade. According to DoD interviews with medical staff at the hospital its modern facilities rival the facilities at modern hospitals in the United States. It replaces a small, less modern facility.
SSG Craig died on 21 June 2006 during combat operations in Afghanistan. The hoist on his UH-60 helicopter malfunctioned while attempting to evacuate a wounded soldier, PFC Brian J. Bradbury. SSG Craig was assigned to the 159th Air Ambulance Medical Company, Wiesbaden, Germany.
The Parwan Detention Facility (PDF) was completed in 2009 and is located somewhere at Bagram Airfield. It is the main detention facility for persons detained by US forces in Afghanistan. The older detention facility, which was located at a different site, has been criticized in the past for alleged torture and prisoner abuse. In 2005, the New York Times reported that two detainees had been beaten to death by guards in December 2002. Amnesty International used the word "torture" to describe treatment at the detention center.
Apart from military and intelligence personnel, the only people officially allowed inside the prison building were Red Cross representatives who inspected the facility once every two weeks. It was reported in February 2009 that detainees had no access to any legal process. Many of the officers and soldiers interviewed by U.S. Army investigators in the subsequent criminal investigation said the large majority of detainees were compliant and reasonably well treated. However, some interrogators routinely administered harsh treatment which included alleged beatings, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, shackling to ceilings, and threats with guard dogs. Amnesty International has criticized the U.S. government for using dogs in this way at the detention center.
In 2005, the number of anti-Afghanistan militants held at Bagram was 450 but began increasing then. In the same year, four al-Qaeda militants escaped from Bagram detention center. To address the mounting human rights violations and the 2005 escape incident, the U.S. decided to build a more modern detention facility. As of November 2011, more than 3,000 anti-Afghanistan militants and foreign terrorists are detained at PDF, roughly 18 times as many as in Guantanamo Bay. The number increased 5-fold since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. The detainees include senior members of al-Qaeda and Taliban militant commanders. In 2012, the Afghan government requested that control of the Parwan Detention Facility be handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The new hospital is the most advanced in the area of operations and features a four-bed trauma bay, three operating rooms and a state of the art dental clinic.
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