NATO has closed more than 200 bases in Afghanistan and transferred nearly 300 others to local forces, a concrete step toward its 2014 target of handing over security responsibility, NATO officers said Sunday.
All 202 closed facilities were small, ranging from isolated checkpoints to bases of a dozen to 300 soldiers, said Lt. Col. David Olson, a NATO forces spokesman. Most of the closures have been along the country's main highways, spread across nearly every province, Olson said.
Another 282 bases of the same size have been handed over to the Afghan government, he said.
That means international forces now operate about half as many bases in Afghanistan as in October of 2011, when they ran about 800 bases.
The closures are part of the large-scale drawdown over this year and next as international forces prepare to transfer security tasks to the Afghan government at the end of 2014. Most of the troops that are leaving are American, and therefore most of the closures are U.S. bases.
"As our Afghan security force partners take more responsibility for their own security, more bases will be closing and transitioning," said Brig. Gen. Steven Shapiro, who is heading up the operation to return or hand over U.S. equipment. He said that so far the U.S. government has given about 20,000 pieces of equipment worth about $3 million to the Afghan government, ranging from chairs to large generators.
"Our footprint here will continue to shrink," Shapiro told reporters at a briefing about how non-military equipment is being processed as numbers of American forces decrease.
The U.S. started drawing down forces from a peak of nearly 103,000 last year and plans to have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by October.
Associated Press writer Heidi Vogt contributed.