As US troops leave, Afghanistan buried under American trash
The Bagram Air Base was the headquarters of US forces in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. The base has been emptying out since the spring, leaving tons of garbage behind.
Scrap as far as the eye can see
Historians may debate the political legacy of the US mission in Afghanistan. But the physical legacy is clear in the massive amounts of scrap metal and trash left behind. The US military's exit from Bagram Air Base is part of Washington's plans to completely withdraw troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Where to put all the garbage?
US soldiers will either take their equipment with them or give it to local security forces. But troops will leave plenty behind — such as junk, packaging and electronic waste. More than a 100,000 US troops have served at Bagram since 2001. The base, 70 kilometers north (40 miles) of Kabul, has grown into a small American town, complete with a shopping center and fast-food restaurants.
One man's garbage, another man's treasure
The junkyard just outside the base has become popular with fortune hunters. They come in large numbers to sift through the trash, on the lookout for something useful — like this pair of military boots. Their hope is to sell what they find for money.
Searching for electronic treasure
Large amounts of electronic waste are also buried in the dump. People are on the lookout for circuit boards that contain parts and screws that can be reused. Some even contain valuable materials like copper and even tiny amounts of gold. For Americans, it's all garbage. But for Afghans who earn just €500 ($695) a year, it's something of a treasure.
What will become of Bagram?
Bagram, at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains, has a long history as an army base. The Soviet army used the base during its invasion in 1979. Many now fear that when the Americans leave, Bagram will fall into the hands of the Taliban — a strategic victory for the Islamists.
A risky withdrawal
Troops have been officially withdrawing since May 1 and there's no time to get rid of the garbage as well. Heavy weapons and additional forces were kept on standby for possible Taliban attacks during the withdrawal. In the final weeks leading up to the withdrawal, a total of 36 NATO and partner countries were still involved in the mission, including 2,500 American soldiers and 1,100 from Germany.
Women at work
Here, a girl salvages a battered metal crate from the scrapyard. Despite the hardships, girls and women have profited the most from the US-led military mission and the fall of the Taliban in 2001. They have been able to attend school and, as adults, work in areas previously inaccessible to them, including high court offices and other institutions.
People left behind
Some people find things of pure sentimental value in the junkyard, to remind them of the base. Numerous settlements of local Afghan forces have sprung up around Bagram, and their existence has depended on the base. Many now wonder what will become of them and their families.
So what's left of the US presence in the Hindu Kush, aside from worn-out boots and rusty wire? US President Joe Biden promised a "sustained" partnership during a June 25 White House meeting with his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani. Millions of Afghan will be taking Biden at his word.