Last flight signifies the ‘end of the nearly 20-year mission’ in Afghanistan, top United States general says.
The final United States military flight has left the Afghan capital, a top US military general announced on Monday, officially ending the country’s 20-year war in Afghanistan.
General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said the US evacuated 79,000 people, including 6,000 American citizens, from Kabul since August 14, shortly before the Taliban took control of the city.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” McKenzie told reporters during a news briefing at the Pentagon.
“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 Taliban took over Afghanistan earlier this month after a blistering offensive, reaching Kabul on August 15 as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and government forces collapsed.
US forces remained in control of the airport, however, as they worked to evacuate American citizens, third country nationals and Afghan allies, and meet an August 31 withdrawal deadline set by President Joe Biden.
“Every single American service member is now out of Afghanistan. I can say that with absolute certainty,” McKenzie said on Monday.
The general added that US forces started the evacuations on August 14 with the assumption that Afghan security forces would be a “willing and able” partner, but the Taliban took over the capital a day later.
That is when Washington started coordinating the evacuation efforts with the group.
“It’s important to understand that within 48 hours of the execution order, facts on the ground had changed significantly,” McKenzie said. “We have gone from cooperating on security with a longtime partner and ally to initiating a pragmatic relationship of necessity with a longtime enemy.”
The Biden administration has said it remains committed to helping people leave Afghanistan after the military withdrawal is completed.
Over the past weeks, chaotic scenes have broken out at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as desperate Afghans fearing Taliban repression sought to leave the country.
An attack at the airport last week killed at least 175 people, including dozens of Afghan civilians and 13 US soldiers, and prompted a warning from Biden of more potential violence in the final days of the military withdrawal.
Thursday’s deadly bombing was claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K).