Washington: The US military has completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan to end America’s longest-running 20-year brutal war. Despite billions of dollars being spent trying to rebuild the conflict-ravaged country, it began and ended with the staunch Taliban in power.
Celebrations in Kabul were pelted with gunfire in the early hours of Tuesday, and senior Taliban officials saw the incident as a watershed moment.
The withdrawal comes after the final days of a frantic mission to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans who helped the US-led war effort – and last week killed Afghans and 13 US soldiers in a suicide attack.
That attack – claimed by the Afghan branch of ISIS – intensified the risky US-led international airlift from Kabul and also exposed potential trouble for Afghanistan as the Taliban moves to form a government.
The withdrawal came before the end of August 31, the actual deadline set by President Joe Biden to give time to America’s longest war – which ultimately claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members.
“I’m here to complete my withdrawal from Afghanistan and to announce the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens,” US Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters in Washington on Monday.
“Tonight’s withdrawal marks the end of both the military component of the migration, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan after 9/11.”
The last flight 1929 GMT took off on Monday just before the start of Tuesday in Kabul.
Biden said he would address the nation in Washington on Tuesday.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghanistan had gained “complete independence” with the US withdrawal, and senior Taliban official Anas Haqqani said he was proud to see “these historic moments.”
AFP correspondents in the city heard the enthusiastic firing of fighters stationed at security checkpoints in the Green Zone from several Taliban posts.
Returning to power a fortnight before the Taliban movement, which was ousted in 2001, when the United States invaded to avenge the 9/11 massacre, people feared a new version of the radical Islamic regime. The mass migration began.
According to McKenzie, evacuation flights from Kabul airport have evacuated more than 123,000 people, but he acknowledged that not everyone who wanted to leave was able to do so, and that “diplomatic missions” would continue to let others go.
It is not clear how this process will unfold.
The UN Security Council on Monday passed a resolution honoring the Taliban’s commitment to allow people to leave Afghanistan freely in the coming days and to allow access to the United Nations and other aid agencies, but has not created a “safe zone in Kabul.”
But now there is talk of who will run Kabul airport. The Taliban has asked Turkey to handle logistics to maintain security control, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted the offer.
And it was not immediately clear which airlines would agree to fly in and out of Kabul.
The biggest threat to return came when the Taliban’s rival, the regional ISIS-K group, carried out a devastating suicide bombing outside the airport last week.
On Monday, he claimed to have fired six rockets at the airport. A Taliban official said the air base’s missile defense systems had repulsed the attack.
An AFP photographer saw the wrecked car with a launcher system that is still visible in the back seat.
“Possible loss of innocent life”
The United States said Sunday it had carried out a drone attack on a vehicle threatening Kabul airport, which has been linked to the regional ISIS chapter, targeting IS-K in recent days.
But on Monday it looked like they might have made a terrible mistake.
One family member told AFP they believed a fatal mistake had been made, and that 10 civilians had been killed.
“My brother and his four children were killed. I lost my youngest daughter, nieces, and nephews,” Aimal Ahmadi told AFP.
A US Central Command spokesman said Sunday that the US was “aware of reports of civilian casualties” and was investigating.
“We are deeply saddened by any possible loss of innocent lives,” he said.
In recent years, the ISIS Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries.
While both ISIS and the Taliban are staunch Sunni Islamists, they are also bitter enemies at times – each claiming to be the true flag bearer of jihad.
End of an era
The US military effort in Afghanistan was winding down without incident ahead of the August 31 deadline when Biden was forced to send 6,000 troops back into Kabul just two weeks ago to secure evacuations as the Taliban steamrolled across the country.
The victory of the hardliners and the decision by ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country sparked panic in Kabul, where thousands of Afghans flocked to the airport in the hopes of leaving the Taliban-ruled country.
A few even clung to a US military aircraft taking off in a desperate bid to flee – only to fall from the sky.
According to the latest available data from September 2019, All stated, the US military has spent more than $775 billion on operations in Afghanistan since 2001.
But a study conducted at Brown University suggests the total could be much higher, perhaps more than $ 2.3 trillion.