Afghanistan Updates: US Occupation Ended, Ending America’s Longest War
The last remnants of the US presence in Afghanistan left Kabul airport on Monday, ending an occupation that has claimed the lives of more than 170,000 people and ended in a complete takeover of the country by the adversary that the US military has spent two decades fighting.
US military leaders had said the United States would continue evacuation efforts and fully withdraw by August 31, the deadline set by President Biden earlier this summer. But those efforts were wrapped up a full day early – just days after an attack on the airport by Islamic State Khorasan killed 13 US service members and up to 170 civilians on one of the worst days. war’s deadliest.
Evacuation flights ended Monday and the military finished packing everything it intended to take out of the airport into transport planes before loading other service members.
The last Air Force C-17, with call sign MOOSE 85, departed at midnight local time carrying the last remaining US forces, a US military official said.
“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001,” the general said. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the chief of Army Central Command. “No words from me could capture the full measure of the sacrifices and achievements of those who served.”
More than 2,400 U.S. military personnel and nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians have died in the 20-year war, in addition to tens of thousands of casualties among U.S. contractors, Afghan National Army and Police, insurgents and others , according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.
President Biden said in a written statement that he would address the nation on Tuesday to mark the end of the war.
“I would like to thank our commanders and the men and women who serve under them for executing the dangerous demotion from Afghanistan as planned – in the early morning hours of August 31 Kabul time – with no further loss of life. Americans,” Mr. Biden said.
“For now,” he said, “I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all of our commanders in the field to end our airlift mission as planned. Their point view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and ensure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months to come.
General McKenzie said the last plane took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 11:59 p.m. local time on Monday. It cleared Afghan airspace minutes later on Tuesday August 31, two US military officials said.
Senior commanders made the decision days ago to leave unannounced about 24 hours before the withdrawal deadline, two military officials said. Commanders wanted a cushion in case there were safety issues or a plane broke down at the last minute. Another consideration was the stormy weather forecast for parts of Monday and Tuesday.
It was also feared that hundreds of Afghans would try to overrun the airfield in desperation on the final day, in a grim repeat of the chaos sparked by the first flights after the fall of Kabul on August 15.
The risks posed by a day of more potential attacks from Islamic State were also significant, officials said. On Monday morning, the US military shot down rockets it said targeted the airport. And a day earlier, a US drone strike detonated a vehicle in Kabul which the military said was loaded with explosives.
Afghan commandos – the remnants of the Afghan security forces – who were helping the Americans at the airport were among the last to be evacuated, along with their families, Gen. McKenzie said. A Defense Ministry official said separately that the Afghan commandos were on one of the last planes out.
As the last elements of the 82nd Airborne Division and special operations forces boarded their gray C-17s, the security cordon around the airfield tightened – ‘like the Alamo,’ an official said. military watching the last hours – until the last transport plane is on top.
Control of the airport was left in the hands of the Taliban, whose fighters celebrated by firing shots into the air.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, took to Twitter early on Tuesday and said, “Our country has achieved full independence, thank God.”
A few hundred Afghans were still waiting outside the airport perimeter on Monday evening, but were kept at bay by Taliban fighters guarding the area.
The huge evacuation operation, which is taking place after the rapid and unexpected collapse of the Afghan government, has transported some 123,000 people out of the country in the past two months, including around 6,000 Americans.
About 1,200 people had been airlifted from Kabul in the past 24 hours, said a White House spokeswoman early Monday morning.
But that leaves behind at least 100,000 people, according to one estimate, and possibly many more who might be eligible for a fast-track US visa and who dread staying in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Many are former US Army performers who are in some stage of the process to receive a special immigrant visa and fear immediate death.
The United States and 97 other countries said on Sunday they would continue to take in people fleeing Afghanistan and had reached an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Monday evening that there were fewer than 200 American citizens left in Afghanistan who wanted to leave and that the United States would help them do so. He said it was difficult to give an exact figure because some citizens with dual nationality have lived in Afghanistan for years and have family there, and are struggling to decide whether to stay or leave.
“If an American in Afghanistan tells us he wants to stay for now, and in a week or a month or a year from now he reaches out and says, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ we’ll help him. to go,” Mr. Blinken said.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, announced on Friday that the group would not stop people from leaving, regardless of their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war.
But it was uncertain whether the Taliban would honor that pledge and when the airport could reopen for commercial flights.
Hamid, a journalist for whom an international news agency had booked a ticket out of Afghanistan, said US forces had not allowed him to enter the airport in recent days.
“First, the Americans brought down Afghanistan and did not support the government,” he said. “Then they didn’t allow us to go to the airport, and now I got stuck and they left us to the insurgents. I don’t know what will happen to me.
Jim Huylebroeck, Helen Cooper, Jim Tankerley and Najim Rahim contributed report.