US declares completion of Afghanistan pullout, ending 20-year war
By Michael Hernandez and Rabia Iclal Turan
WASHINGTON /ANKARA (AA): The US announced Monday the completion of its efforts to withdraw all of its forces from Afghanistan, bringing to an end the longest war in American history.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, confirmed the conclusion of the withdrawal and military efforts to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans from the war-torn country. The final planes departed Afghanistan shortly before midnight local time and have cleared Afghan airspace.
“While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional US citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues,” he told reporters. “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 shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.”
In all, 2,461 American service members and civilians were killed during the 20-year war, and more than 20,000 others were wounded. Those figures include 13 service members who were killed Thursday in a suicide bomb attack on and near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Around 122,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan during the extraction effort, including about 6,000 Americans, according to Biden administration figures.
The Taliban were not notified beforehand about the exact time that the last US planes would depart the airport, but McKenzie said the group “were actually very helpful and useful to us as we closed down operations.”
All Afghan troops who were helping with the evacuation effort, as well as their families, were evacuated from Afghanistan ahead of the US withdrawal, added McKenzie.
In addition to signaling the end of the US military effort in Afghanistan, McKenzie’s announcement also marks the conclusion of US control over the airport, from which nearly all international evacuation efforts were run. The American military assumed control of the airport on Aug. 14 amid the rapid collapse of the former Afghan military and government.
It is unclear who will run the airport in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, though the UN has stressed it is essential that the site remain open to facilitate badly-needed deliveries of international aid to the country.
McKenzie did not have an exact figure for the number of Americans who remain in Afghanistan but wish to leave. He estimated the figure is in the “very low hundreds,” however.
“I believe we’re going to be able to get those people out. We’re also going to negotiate very hard, and very aggressively to get our other Afghan partners out,” he said. “The military phase is over, but our desire to bring these people out remains as intense as it was before. The weapons have just shifted, if you will, from the military realm to the diplomatic realm, and the Department of State will now take the lead on that.”
US President Joe Biden later released a statement, saying “our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended.”
Biden thanked the commanders and the men and women serving under them for “their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled – in the early morning hours of August 31, Kabul time – with no further loss of American lives.”
“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve,” he wrote.
Adding that he will address the American people Tuesday regarding the decision on Afghanistan, he said: “For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned.”
“Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead,” he added.
Biden ended the statement “with a moment of gratitude for the sacrifice of the 13 service members” who were killed in the Kabul airport attack on Aug. 26, “who gave their lives…to save tens of thousands.”
[Photo: Taliban celebrate after the last U.S. troops left Hamid Karzai International Airport as the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. Photographer: Haroon Sabawoon/]
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