WASHINGTON: The United States has announced the end of its 20-year-old war in Afghanistan as the last American military flight flew out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul shortly before the August 31 deadline.
"I'm here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the mission to evacuate American citizens, third country nationals and vulnerable Afghans," US Central Command Commander Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie told reporters through a virtual news conference.
"Every single US service member is now out of Afghanistan," McKenzie said, announcing the formal end of America's longest war, less than a fortnight before the 20th anniversary of the September 9/11, in which Al Qaeda terrorists blew up the twin towers in New York.
The terrorist strike forced the US to enter Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban rule who then had provided safe havens to the Al Qaeda leadership.
The Taliban rule was overthrown and replaced by US-backed Afghans, who ruled the country for 20 years, during which several general elections were held.
That rule was overthrown by the Taliban on August 15 when the president Ashraf Ghani suddenly fled the country and the 3,00,000 Afghan armed forces troops trained by the United States gave up without any fight.
The Taliban, which now is the ruling power in Afghanistan, welcomed the departure of the US troops from the country.
"Congratulations to all our compatriots and our dear nation and Mujahideen: Today, all foreign forces left our pure and martyr land," the Taliban said in a tweet in Persian.
Special US Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said in a tweet, "Our war in Afghanistan is over. Our brave Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen served with distinction and sacrifice to the very end. They have our enduring gratitude and respect."
"With the departure of our military & those of the many partners who stood with us, Afghans face a moment of decision & opportunity. Their country's future is in their hands. They will choose their path in full sovereignty. This is the chance to bring their war to an end as well," he said.
"The Taliban now face a test. Can they lead their country to a safe & prosperous future where all their citizens, men & women, have the chance to reach their potential? Can Afghanistan present the beauty & power of its diverse cultures, histories, & traditions to the world?" he said in another tweet.
Gen McKenzie said no American civilian was in the last flight.
"While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional US citizens and eligible Afghans, who want to leave, continues. 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's a mission that brought Osama bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his al Qaeda co conspirators," he said.
"And it was not a cheap mission. The cost was 2,461 US service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured. Sadly, that includes 13 service members who were killed last week by an ISIS-K suicide bomber. We honor their sacrifice today as we remember their heroic accomplishments," McKenzie said.
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President Joe Biden had set a deadline of August 31 for the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan.
Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the "failed" withdrawal from Afghanistan has left many Americans behind.
"Joe Biden left Americans behind. His decision to cause this disaster and abandon Americans and our interests proves what we all already knew. Joe Biden is incapable of serving as Commander in Chief and the US and the world are less safe because of him," she said.
"As Biden attempts to take a victory lap on his failed Afghanistan withdrawal, Americans remain stranded behind Taliban lines. To the men and women of America's armed forces and their families, Americans will always honor the sacrifice that you and your loved ones made for our country," McDaniel said in a statement.
"Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended," Biden said, thanking armed forces for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled -- in the early hours of Tuesday (August 31), with no further loss of American lives.
Biden said he will address the nation on Tuesday.
"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."
The president said he has asked the Secretary of State to lead the continued coordination with US international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, Afghan partners and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan.
This will include work to build on the UN Security Council Resolution that sent the clear message of what the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on moving forward, notably freedom of travel, he added.
"The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments. It will include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan," Biden said.
He urged all Americans to join him in "grateful prayer for three things".
"First, for our troops and diplomats who carried out this mission of mercy in Kabul and at tremendous risk with such unparalleled results: an airlift that evacuated tens of thousands more people than any imagined possible".
"Second, to the network of volunteers and veterans who helped identify those needing evacuation, guide them to the airport, and provide support along the way. And third, to everyone who is now, and who will, welcome our Afghan allies to their new homes around the world, and in the United States."
Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden stands by his decision to bring troops home from Afghanistan.
"Because if he had not, his view and the view of many experts in military out there is we would have sent tens of thousands, potentially -- or thousands, at least -- more troops back into harm's way, risking more lives and more people to fight a war the Afghans were not willing to fight themselves. Nothing has changed in that regard," she said.
"Our current plan is not to have an ongoing presence in Afghanistan as of September 1st, but we will have means and mechanisms of having diplomats on the ground, being able to continue to process out those applicants and facilitate passage of other people who want to leave Afghanistan. We will have more details for that, I expect, in the coming days," she added.
Never in history has a withdrawal from war been handled so badly or incompetently as by Americans from Afghanistan, former president Donald Trump has said as the United States flew its last military flight out of Kabul bringing back all of its armed forces from the country.
"Never in history has a withdrawal from war been handled so badly or incompetently as the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan," Trump said as the longest American war came to an end, with the Taliban regaining power in the country which they had lost after the American invasion weeks after the September 9/11 attacks.
"In addition to the obvious, ALL EQUIPMENT should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States, and that includes every penny of the USD 85 billion dollars in cost," Trump said.
"If it is not handed back, we should either go in with unequivocal military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it. Nobody ever thought such stupidity, as this feeble-brained withdrawal, was possible!" he said.
Trump's successor President Joe Biden had retained Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to carry out the last mile negotiations with the Taliban.
"The Biden administration was more focused on hitting an arbitrary targeted date rather than hitting the conditions that will permit the execution of the mission that delivers on behalf of America," alleged former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"No, there was no obligation for the departure date. The obligation was to the American people and to secure America," he said.
Former top American diplomat to the United Nations Nikki Haley described it as "shameful retreat".
"Joe Biden just completed his shameful retreat from Afghanistan, leaving American citizens and Afghan allies behind under the rule of a terrorist government. If anything happens to them, Biden is to blame," she said.
"Not only are Russia and China enjoying Joe Biden's retreat in Afghanistan, but they're also ready to seize the moment. The implications of Joe Biden's foreign policy could be catastrophic for America," Haley said.
Delivering the Republican Address on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Congressman Mark Green said this is a disgrace that has now resulted in the tragic loss of American lives.
"Our prayers are with the families and loved ones of these heroes. Our so-called Commander in Chief is abandoning Americans, our Afghan allies, and members of NATO who only came to Afghanistan to help us. We are in a crisis of leadership. President Biden has failed," he said.
Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and United States Army veteran, said the US completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan with many Americans still stuck behind enemy lines desperate to get out, and USD 85 billion in US weapons and equipment was now in Taliban hands.
"This is a historic disgrace of epic proportions ordered by President Biden," he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says fewer than 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan who want to leave and the US will continue to try to get them out.
Blinken says the number of Americans left may be closer to 100.
He says the US would work with Afghanistan's neighbors to secure their departure either overland or by charter flight once the Kabul airport re-opens.
Speaking shortly after the Pentagon announced the completion of the US military pullout Monday, Blinken said the US Embassy in Kabul will remain shuttered and vacant for the foreseeable future.
He says American diplomats who had worked from the now-closed embassy will be based in Doha, Qatar.