Kabul: Afghans celebrate as final US soldiers leave the country
Following a chaotic airlift nearly 20 years after it invaded the country in the wake of 9/11, the US has finally withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan. More than 122,000 people have been airlifted out of Kabul since August 14, the day before the Taliban regained control of the country two decades after being removed from power by the US-led invasion in 2001.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, the head of the US Central Command, made the announcement at a Pentagon news briefing after the last troops sent to evacuate Americans and Afghans at risk following the Taliban’s return to power flew out of the capital Kabul.
The chief US diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was on the last C-17 flight out.
General McKenzie 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.
“It is a mission that brought Osama Bin Laden to justice along with many of his al Qaeda co-conspirators.
US completes its Afghanistan pull out as the last jets depart from Kabul airport.
Celebratory scenes in Kabul as US leaves Afghanistan
“The cost was 2,461 US service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured.
“Sadly, that includes 13 US service members who were killed last week by an ISIS case suicide bomber.”
He added: “We honour their sacrifice today as we remember their heroic accomplishments.
“No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who served, nor the emotions they’re feeling at this moment, but I will say that I’m proud that both my son and I have been a part of it.”
The departure took place after US anti-missile defences intercepted rockets fired at Kabul’s airport.
Two US officials said “core” diplomatic staff were among 6,000 Americans to have left.
They did not say whether that included top envoy Ross Wilson, expected to be among the last civilians to depart.
A US official said initial reports did not indicate any U.S. casualties from as many as five missiles fired on the airport. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks.
Tuesday’s deadline for troops to leave was set by Biden, fulfilling an agreement reached with the Taliban by his predecessor, Donald Trump to end the United States’ longest war.
But having failed to anticipate that the Taliban would so quickly conquer the country, Washington and its NATO allies were forced into a hasty exit.
They leave behind thousands of Afghans who helped Western countries and might have qualified for evacuation.
The US and its Western allies scrambled to save citizens of their own countries as well as translators, local embassy staff, civil rights activists, journalists and other Afghans vulnerable to reprisals.
The evacuations became even more perilous when a suicide bomb attack claimed by Islamic State – enemy of both the West and the Taliban – killed 13 US service members and scores of Afghans waiting by the airport gates on Thursday.
The operation came to an end before the Tuesday deadline set by President Joe Biden, who inherited a troop withdrawal deal made with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump and decided earlier this year to complete the pull-out.
The Biden administration said it expects the Taliban to continue allowing safe passage for Americans and others to leave Afghanistan after the US military withdrawal is completed.
Over the weekend, Mr Biden authorised a strike following the devastating terrorist attack.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Biden said: “The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others.
“Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.
“May God protect our troops and all those standing watch in these dangerous days.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby echoed Mr Biden’s warning of “dangerous days” and said the threats are still very real.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UN Security Council resolution “makes clear that the international community stands with Afghans”.
He added: “There can be no return to repression or terror.
“We will push as one voice for safe passage, humanitarian access and respect for human rights.”
More to follow…