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A potent symbol of America’s defeat

On 15 August the Taliban took over the vast Bagram air base, abandoned without warning by US forces on 1 July – much to their delight. “Our lesson is that we defeated America with our faith and our guns,” one fighter there told The Times’s Anthony Loyd. Ninety minutes north of Kabul, the base is “the size of a small city”, with a two-mile runway (costing $68m), a 50-bed hospital and accommodation blocks. Now littered with abandoned armoured vehicles, it was once the coalition’s primary base for air missions – and, until last month, the site of an “infamous detention facility”. At least two prisoners were beaten to death there.

The Taliban freed hundreds of prisoners, including scores of Isis-K members, three weeks ago. At its peak in 2011, Bagram held more than 3,000 captured insurgents – 18 times the population of Guantanamo Bay. Afghan authorities assumed control of the prison in 2012 and, since the Taliban took over, they have been scouring the abandoned shackles and filthy cells in search of a smaller underground facility known as the “Black Jail”. Conditions were bad enough in the huge cages, where dozens at a time were imprisoned. “I was stripped and hosed with cold water, naked; suspended in chains and beaten,” said one occupying fighter who was imprisoned there in 2002. Another imagined a new role for the place: “We hope now that Bagram can be a base for jihad for all Muslims.”

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