Satellite imagery contradicts reports of foreign planes at Bagram air base

Over the past 48 hours, there have been more and more rumors and even media reports that Bagram Air Base, once the bastion of America’s combat capability in Afghanistan, has been shut down. animated by mysterious planes that arrived there overnight.

In fact, rumors and claims on social media ranging from activating base lights to hearing planes landing there have been widely disseminated in the media. For example, the United Kingdom Daily mail newspaper, although it is not known for its accuracy on these matters, published this story titled:

While this title captures the rumor mill quite carefully, based on satellite imagery The war zone looked at the base, it doesn’t seem accurate. In fact, in our comparative analysis of Planet Scope images from Planet Labs, with an image as recent as today, October 3, 2021, there does not appear to be anything new of significance on the airfield and no aircraft from transport of any type over its sprawling expanse. ramps. Our review also included several images from the past few days.

This is not to say that an airplane could not have come and gone between when the images were taken or that an airplane was not pushed into a hangar. It is quite possible, although the size of the aircraft should be limited. But some sort of substantial operation would likely have several planes on the ground there. We have ordered a high resolution image and are awaiting completion of this task so that we can review it. Maybe more information will appear in this image.

It’s also worth noting that there are chronically puzzling details in the satellite images of Bagram Air Base. These include silhouettes of what appear to be tactical aircraft (F-15 and F-16) painted on the ground in aircraft skin on the southeast side of the field. They are few in number and placed at random. As such, we often get people sending us alerts that they have seen fighters deployed to Bagram Air Base in satellite imagery. This is simply not the case. To make matters stranger, these silhouettes appear to have been painted in recent years and are not relics of earlier Taliban rule or Soviet occupation or anything like that.

The idea that China could have a major presence in Afghanistan after the Taliban returns to power and America withdraws is not new either. It is also not believed that Bagram Air Base could be used as a hub of Beijing’s interests in the country, but there is no indication that it will certainly be, let alone that it is already happening. For their part, the Chinese authorities have denied having negotiated access to the facility with the Taliban. There were other rumors that Pakistan could settle in Bagram as part of a stabilization force. Again, there is no hard evidence to support this claim, but it is Afghanistan under a very precarious Taliban regime that we are talking about, so anything is possible at this point.

We should also note that the United States cut power to Bagram Air Force Base and left in the middle of the night in July. It was a remarkably confusing decision for some of us at the time, but it became extremely controversial in retrospect after the chaotic and deadly US withdrawal from Afghanistan without the help of the heavily fortified base, which is located a few tens of kilometers north of Kabul. That being said, ultimately the Taliban would want to set the stage in motion even for their own limited use. Restoring the aerodrome lighting would therefore be part of this process. This could be the explanation for what some claim to have been the airfield being illuminated during the evening recently.

So while we cannot say for sure that nothing entered or left the now Taliban-controlled Bagram Air Base, currently available satellite imagery does not support such a claim. That might change once we receive additional high-res images, but that’s where it is currently.

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