The Road to Bagram

Image by Arlo K. Abrahamson, via U.S. Federal Government

The road to Bagram Airfield in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan is littered with the spoils of war, most of it now completely destroyed. The desert floor abounds with the wreckage of Soviet era military equipment, including tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Destroyed tanks and armoured vehicles litter the side of the road (top); T-55 battle tank hulk (left); unexploded ordnance (right)

(Image 1 by ArminWenger; 2 and 3 by U.S. Federal Government, all released into public domain)

Historically, Bagram Airfield (formerly known as Bagram Air Base) was a major staging post for Soviet troops during the 10 year occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. The base is a sprawling network of concrete stretching out across the desert sand, and built with one purpose in mind – war.

Image via Google Earth (top) shows the scale of Bagram Airfield; Not Bagram, but this former Russian tank on display at the memorial site of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud reflects the amount of wrecked military hardware littering the country (image by U.S Federal Government)

Today, there are three large hangars, a control tower, numerous support buildings and more than 32 acres of ramp space with five aircraft dispersal areas and more than 110 revetments.  Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Bagram was secured by a British Special Forces team, and has subsequently been under the control of the United States Army.  Since then, the base has been significantly modified, including an enormous new runway capable of taking the largest aircraft in the U.S. inventory.

Storm over Bagram Airfield (image by DVIDSHUB)

Bagram Airfield today is a hive of activity, occupied predominantly by American forces.  The picture above shows hundreds of temporary buildings flown into the base in the wake of the invasion to accomodate the thousands of troops and various support functions, while a storm brews ominously in the background.

Image by Jim Garamone, via the U.S. Federal Government

And in a forgotten corner of the airfield rests the sorry remains of the pre-invasion Afghan Air Force.  Clearly cannibalised, it’s uncertain whether any of these rusting hulks – in particular the ageing Soviet built Mig 21s (far left) – were serviceable at the time of the Allied invasion…

Image by the U.S. Federal Government

This abandoned Mig 21 (ex-Afghan Air Force)is not even within the confines of the airfield, but like other spoils of war seen above, sits in an open field alongside similar rotting hardware.  Looking at historic military wreckage in Afghanistan, it’s not always easy to differentiate which vehicles belonged to the Soviet Union and which were the Afghan’s, since they were all manufactured in Russia and many have been lying around for decades.  But one thing’s for sure: this substantial fighting force that once comprised the very latest in Soviet technology serves no purpose today other than as a bleak reminder of the bloody history of this wartorn region.



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