Washington confirms total withdrawal of its forces from war-torn state after 20 years, with senior Taliban official hailing ‘historic moment’
The United States late on Monday completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, a day earlier than the Aug. 31 deadline imposed by President Joe Biden, ending Washington’s longest war after nearly 20 years.
Ross Wilson, the chief U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, was on the last flight out of Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command chief Marine General Frank McKenzie told a news briefing at the Pentagon. In total, over 122,000 people—Afghans and foreigners—have been airlifted out of Kabul since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban regained control of the country after former president Ashraf Ghani tendered his resignation and fled.
The withdrawal was expedited due to threats from Daesh, which have already claimed a suicide attack targeting U.S. forces at the airport that left nearly 200 people dead, including 13 U.S. troops.
The U.S. president is set to address the nation later today even as his critics lash out at him for his administration’s handling of the withdrawal. “We can’t fight endless wars, but the scope and consequence of Biden’s failure here is staggering,” Republican Senator Rick Scott said on Twitter. “President Biden has brought great shame on the American people,” added Congressman Richard Hudson.
Celebratory gunfire rang out across Kabul after the last U.S. plane lifted off, as Taliban fighters quickly swept into the airport—the last area of Kabul that had remained outside their control. “We made history again. The 20-year occupation of Afghanistan by the United States and NATO ended tonight,” Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official, posted on Twitter. “I am very happy that after 20 years of jihad, sacrifices and hardships I have this pride to see these historic moments,” he added.
In Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghanistan had “gained full independence” following the U.S. withdrawal.
Despite the Taliban revels, many Afghan people remained terrified that they are witnessing a return to the Taliban’s brutal rule from 1996-2001, which was infamous for its human rights violations, including their treatment of girls and women, and a repressive justice system.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday, requiring the Taliban to honor a commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan, and to grant access to the U.N. and other aid agencies. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned that any legitimacy and support would have to be earned.
Thousands of Afghans who had either worked with the U.S.-backed government or criticized the Taliban fear retribution and have been seeking a route out of the country. However, all flight operations at Kabul airport are suspended due to lack of expertise in keeping it operational. The Taliban have reportedly asked Turkey to handle logistics, but Ankara is hesitant to do so without the presence of its own security forces.