Afghanistan: A look inside the abandoned US detention center at Bagram Air Base – as tearful Taliban fighters vow to avenge their comrades

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Afghanistan: A look inside the abandoned US detention center at Bagram Air Base – as tearful Taliban fighters vow to avenge their comrades


The infamous American-built detention center inside the massive Bagram military base is a terrifying place even when empty.

It is known locally as Afghanistanis Guantanamo. Those detained here feared they would never leave. Many of those who left have never been the same since.

We are the first Western television crew to enter the infamous prison. Americans and their Afghan security partners are particularly sensitive to the fact that the outside eyes see inward.

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Taliban freed prisoners when they took over Bagram air base
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Hard drives and burnt documents are seen in the facility
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A mechanical workshop

We weave our way through twisted sheets of corrugated iron from which the captives escaped hours after the the capital fell into the hands of the Taliban and only a few weeks after the American soldiers left the base hurry. The Taliban unlocked all cells containing those who had not been able to escape – among them hundreds believed to be ISIS-K prisoners, an offshoot of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group.

Now the Taliban occupies the gates of the huge sprawling military base that has grown into a small town and was the main coalition military center during its 20-year military mission. Originally built by Russian invaders in the 1950s, the Americans expanded it to include a gymnasium, a 50-bed hospital, and the dreaded detention center.

A deflated American football was left behind
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A deflated American football was left behind
Taliban fighters pray inside cells
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Taliban fighters pray inside cells
Abandoned American ammunition and oil barrels
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Abandoned American ammunition and oil barrels

In the detention center, they sheltered and interrogated Taliban fighters they caught in combat or suspects they feared might find themselves on the battlefield.

Some were seen as high-ranking terrorist suspects, but there were also hundreds of ordinary Afghans – farmers, traders, students and Taliban sympathizers deemed dangerous or suspect.

They have been detained, sometimes for years, without charge or trial. Stories of torture, boarding the water, abuse, beatings and ill-treatment were rife.

The air base was the main military center of the coalition
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The air base was the main military center of the coalition
It is believed that the prison could have been a breeding ground for radicalization
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It is believed that the prison could have been a breeding ground for radicalization

Former President Hamid Karzai told Sky News in an interview he gave before the Taliban pushed back Ashraf Ghani’s government that the existence of the Bagram detention center and the terrible stories that emanate from it infuriated him and provoked him multiple fallout between him and the American politicians with whom he has dealt.

He has never forgiven his American partners for what happened inside the Bagram detention center.

“They were supposed to come here for peace, not to bomb villages and hold captives,” he told us in July.

Every dark and damp hallway and every ransacked room in the detention center has a story – and all of them seem grim.

The prison was known locally as Guantanamo in Afghanistan
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The prison was known locally as Guantanamo in Afghanistan
The Taliban flag flies over a checkpoint at the entrance to Bagram
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The Taliban flag flies over a checkpoint at the entrance to Bagram

There are dozens of scattered photographs of terrified-looking men, many of them young, staring at the camera, in their orange prisoner suits, pressed up against fathoms.

Interrogation rooms are heavily padded to ensure soundproofing, and the lack of electricity means we stumble in the dark using the lights on our cell phones, adding to the weirdness.

In a storage room we find blackout glasses and earmuffs, presumably used for sensory deprivation alongside stacks and piles of orange coveralls, next to cable ties of varying lengths.

We are joined by groups of Taliban fighters who see the center for the first time and now stand above the cages to look through them, as American soldiers once did.

The talibés descend the steps leading to a windowless brick ground floor where there is a series of steel cages that each housed about 30 captives.

Taliban fighters leaf through books and rummage through belongings
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Taliban fighters leaf through books and rummage through belongings
Irons on the ground.
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Irons on the ground.

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Crisis in Afghanistan: Inside Bagram Air Base

A silence hangs over all who watch these scenes.

A few weeks ago there were around 5,000 prisoners here and the noise must have been a constant cacophony of desperation.

The Talibs rummage through personal belongings – blankets and clothes and the odd orange suit left behind – and kiss every book of the Quran they see. One shakes his head.

Then, spontaneously, they come out of the prayer rugs and kneel down to pray for the thousands of people who have lost so many years of their lives here.

Some of the Taliban militants kneel down to pray
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Some of the Taliban militants kneel down to pray

Their US military guards believed they were waging the war on terror and detained some of the most dangerous men in the country – but without any justice, many Afghans see what happened here very differently.

Even US commanders now admit that holding hardened terrorist suspects alongside Taliban sympathizers and common criminals has led to mass indoctrination and radicalization.

One of the praying Taliban fighters is in tears and constantly wipes his eyes. All are shocked and swear revenge.

One of the Talibs starts to cry and wipe his eyes
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One of the Talibs starts to cry and wipe his eyes

“All the Talibs are ready to carry out suicide car bombs to avenge this,” one of them tells us.

“They are not afraid… We are doing this for Allah, not for profit… America has a lot of money but they are not ready to blow themselves up. The Taliban will sit in a car with a bomb, drive it and put it down. We made sacrifices before and after that we will start over. We are suicide bombers. “

An armed Taliban fighter watches
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An armed Taliban fighter watches
Gateways for the guards to look into the cells
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Gateways for the guards to look into the cells

One of the Taliban who has been detained in Bagram for two and a half years tells us that he was tortured.

“Every time you broke any of their rules – like having a nail clipper – you were punished and tortured,” says Aziz Ahmad Shabir.

“They put me in a room alone for a month and made the cell very cold. Now I am mentally ill and my mind is not functioning well… during the two and a half years that I have been detained here a lot of damage has been done to my head. “

He tells us he was a farmer when he was arrested.

“Why were you arrested? ” I ask.

“Because I am a Muslim,” he replies with a smile.

We may never know the details of what one of them was accused of now, but this assessment – which is now widespread in Afghanistan – is dangerous to pit against coalition forces.

The Bagram detention center could end up being known as one of the most successful recruiting centers for anti-Western terrorist networks.

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