The latest US military flight has left the Afghan capital, the Pentagon announced Monday, officially ending the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan after a chaotic evacuation effort.
US Central Command commander General Kenneth McKenzie said the US had evacuated 79,000 people, including 6,000 US civilians, from Kabul since August 14, shortly before the Taliban took possession of the city.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” McKenzie told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
“Tonight’s withdrawal marks both the end of the military component of the evacuation and the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001.”
The Taliban took over Afghanistan earlier this month after a blistering offensive, reaching Kabul on August 15 when President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and government forces collapsed.
However, US forces remained in control of the airport as they worked to evacuate US citizens, third country nationals and Afghan allies, and to meet the August 31 withdrawal deadline set by President Joe Biden.
“Every US military member is now out of Afghanistan. I can say that with absolute certainty,” McKenzie said Monday.
The general added that US forces began the evacuations on August 14 on the assumption that Afghan security forces would be a “willing and capable” partner, but the Taliban took over the capital a day later.
Then Washington began coordinating evacuation efforts with the group.
“It’s important to understand that within 48 hours of the execution order, the facts on the scene had changed significantly,” McKenzie said. “We have moved from a security partnership with an old partner and ally to entering into a pragmatic relationship of necessity with an old enemy.”
The Biden administration has said it will remain committed to helping people leave Afghanistan after the military withdrawal is complete.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Washington, DC, said McKenzie was extremely “candid” during the briefing.
The US military general told reporters the Taliban had been “helpful and helpful” in recent days, especially in securing the airport, Elizondo reported.
“He was frankly…complimentary about the Taliban and their efforts,” he said.
“But he did say that the US was not coordinating at all with the Taliban regarding the exact time and date when the last planes left the airport.”
In recent weeks, chaos has erupted at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as desperate Afghans tried to leave the country fearing repression by the Taliban.
An attack on the airport last week killed at least 175 people, including dozens of Afghan civilians and 13 US soldiers, and warned Biden of more potential violence in the final days of the military withdrawal.
Thursday’s deadly bombing was claimed by Islamic State in Khorasan province, ISKP (ISIS-K).
Biden ‘stands by his decision’
Washington, led by a coalition of international partners, invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in Washington and New York. The Taliban, who controlled Kabul, had sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
US forces quickly took over the country, but they struggled for the next 20 years to defeat a Taliban guerrilla campaign.
With the war in the US becoming increasingly unpopular, former President Donald Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban last year that would guarantee the withdrawal of the US military from the country.
The deal also stipulated that Afghan authorities would “prevent the use of Afghan soil by international terrorist groups or individuals against the security of the United States and its allies” and called for an “intra-Afghan dialogue” between the Taliban and the government. in Kabul. .
Biden, who took office in January, went ahead with the withdrawal plan, stressing that Afghan armed forces have the numbers, training and equipment to fight the Taliban.
But in early August, as the deadline for the US withdrawal approached, provincial capitals began to fall to the Taliban, with little resistance from Afghan security forces.
Asfandyar Mir, an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, called the US withdrawal a “historic moment” in the post-9/11 era.
“From a US perspective, it is one of the lowest points for US foreign policy, national security, in recent history,” he said, pointing to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and the chaotic evacuations.
“I think it’s inescapable that all of this is extremely humiliating.”
Earlier on Monday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden does not regret the decision to withdraw.
“The president stands by his decision to bring our men and women home from Afghanistan, because if he didn’t have… war, the Afghans weren’t willing to fight for themselves,” Psaki said.