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U.S. forces leave key Afghanistan military base

At its height, the Kandahar Airfield was home to more than 26,000 U.S. and international troops.
Afghan National Army soldiers line up to get into a C-130 Hercules at Kandahar Air Base on Aug. 18, 2015.
Afghan National Army soldiers line up to get into a C-130 Hercules at the Kandahar Airfield on Aug. 18, 2015.Massoud Hossaini / AP file

U.S. forces have left one of the largest military bases in Afghanistan, according to three defense officials.

The Kandahar Airfield was turned over to the Afghan National Defense Security Forces earlier this week, the officials said, in a move that signals the urgency of the U.S. effort to fully withdraw from the country by Sept. 11.

Located in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar has been one of the main bases housing U.S. and international troops. At its height, the sprawling military base and airfield were home to more than 26,000 U.S. and international troops.

When coalition combat operations officially transitioned to a training mission in late 2014, Kandahar became the training hub for the southern region of Afghanistan.

Kandahar is historically significant as the birthplace of the Taliban and the last major city where the United States drove the extremist Islamic movement from power in 2001. Since then, Taliban fighters have continued to try to regain control of the city, often taking over towns and areas in Kandahar province for short periods of time until being driven out again.

Last month, the Taliban targeted the Kandahar Airfield with a rocket attack that did not cause any casualties or damage.

The U.S. military is in the midst of withdrawing all of its roughly 2,500 troops from Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden announced his plans for the full troop drawdown last month, saying it was time to end the "forever war."

“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” he said.

Around 2,300 U.S. troops have lost their lives and more than 20,000 have been wounded since the U.S. toppled the ruling Taliban in 2001 after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the architect of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

More than 100,000 Afghan civilians have also been killed or injured since 2009, when the United Nations began systematically documenting the impact of the war on civilians.