The United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan late on Monday, ending America’s longest war and closing a chapter in military history likely to be remembered for colossal failures, unfulfilled promises and a frantic final exit that cost the lives of more than 180 Afghans and 13 US service members.
In announcing the completion of the evacuation and war effort, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3.29pm Washington time, or one minute before midnight in Kabul.
The chief US diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was on the last C-17 flight out, McKenzie told a Pentagon news briefing.
A Taliban guard at Kabul’s airport said the last US planes have flown out and celebratory gunfire erupted across the Afghan capital marking the symbolic end of 20 years of war.
Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter stationed at the airport, said early Tuesday the last five US planes departed around midnight. That would mark the end of a massive airlift that has allowed more than 116,000 people to leave since the Taliban swept back into power two weeks ago.
Hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for shutting down a final airlift, and thus ending the US war, Air Force transport planes carried a remaining contingent of troops from Kabul airport. Thousands of troops had spent a harrowing two weeks protecting a hurried and risky airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans, Americans and others seeking to escape a country once again ruled by Taliban militants.
The airport had become a US-controlled island, a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.
The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama. American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats — and at least two actual attacks — by the Daesh group’s Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on August 26 killed 13 American service members and some 169 Afghans.
The final pullout fulfilled Biden’s pledge to end what he called a “forever war” that began in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. His decision, announced in April, reflected a national weariness of the Afghanistan conflict. Now he faces condemnation at home and abroad, not so much for ending the war as for his handling of a final evacuation that unfolded in chaos and raised doubts about US credibility.
More than 1,100 troops from coalition countries and more than 100,000 Afghan forces and civilians died, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project.
The final US exit included the withdrawal of its diplomats, although the State Department has left open the possibility of resuming some level of diplomacy with the Taliban depending on how they conduct themselves in establishing a government and adhering to international pleas for the protection of human rights.
By the evacuation’s conclusion, well over 100,000 people, mostly Afghans, had been flown to safety.