A handout photo of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul.
Handout | Getty Images News
WASHINGTON – America’s longest war is over.
The United States has ended its withdrawal efforts from Kabul airport, the Pentagon announced on Monday, effectively ending a two-decade conflict that began not long after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Following the Pentagon’s announcement, President Joe Biden thanked the American military in a statement Monday evening and said he would speak to the nation on Tuesday afternoon about his decision not to extend the U.S. mission in Afghanistan beyond August 31.
“In the past 17 days, our forces conducted the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies and Afghan allies of the United States,” the president said in the statement.
“They did it with unmatched courage, professionalism and determination. Now our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has come to an end.”
In the last week of the withdrawal, ISIS-K terrorists killed 13 US soldiers and dozens of Afghans in an attack outside the airport. US forces hit back and launched strikes to thwart other attacks.
The last C-17 military cargo aircraft left Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday afternoon, according to U.S. Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, and completed a massive evacuation that has been going on for the past two years more than 116,000 people were flown out of Afghanistan weeks.
“While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission will continue to secure additional US citizens and Afghans willing to leave the country,” said McKenzie, who heads the US military mission in the region.
Early Monday, US and Allied forces evacuated 1,200 people from the Afghan capital on 26 military cargo plane flights in 24 hours, according to the latest White House figures. Since the mass evacuations began on August 14, around 116,700 people have been flown out of Afghanistan.
About 122,300 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including about 5,500 US citizens and their families.
A State Department spokesman said Saturday that around 250 Americans are still being evacuated.
McKenzie said there were no Americans on the last five flights out of Kabul.
“We couldn’t get any Americans out, this operation probably ended about 12 hours before we moved out. We are continuing the operation and would have been ready to take them until the last minute, but none of them made it to the airport,” said McKenzie .
The four-star general added that there were no more evacuees at the airfield when the last C-17 took off and confirmed that all US soldiers and troops of the Afghan armed forces and their families were also flown out of the air on Monday.
McKenzie said the Taliban had no direct knowledge of the timing of the US military’s departure, adding that local commanders “have severely limited this information.”
“But they were very helpful and useful to us when we shut down,” McKenzie said of the Taliban.
The Taliban are returning to power
Taliban fighters patrol the Wazir Akbar Khan district in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.
Rahmat Gül | AP
The US began its war in Afghanistan in October 2001, weeks after September 11th. Back then, the Taliban offered refuge to al-Qaeda, the group that planned and carried out the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Since then, around 2,500 US soldiers have died in the conflict, which also killed over 100,000 Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.
Now the Taliban are back in power.
In the final weeks of a planned exodus of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban achieved a number of shocking successes on the battlefield.
The Taliban occupied Bagram Air Base, a sprawling and once staunch US military facility, less than two months after US commanders handed it over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force.
In 2012, at its peak, Bagram looked through more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers. It was the largest US military facility in Afghanistan.
As the Taliban approached the capital, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and western nations rushed to evacuate embassies amid a deteriorating security situation.
Biden ordered thousands of US soldiers to be sent to Kabul to help evacuate US embassy personnel and secure the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans swarmed over the airport tarmac to flee Taliban rule.
Although the Afghan military, long supported by US and NATO coalition forces, is vastly outnumbered, the Taliban captured the presidential palace in Kabul on August 15.
In April, Biden ordered the full withdrawal of about 3,000 US troops from Afghanistan by September 11th. He later announced an updated schedule that said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan would end by August 31.
After the Taliban came to power, Biden defended his decision to leave the war-torn country.
“I am fully behind my decision. After 20 years I have learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw the US armed forces,” said Biden a day after the Taliban collapsed Afghanistan.
“American troops cannot and should not fight in a war and die in a war that the Afghan armed forces are unwilling to wage for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We couldn’t give them the will to fight for that future,” he added.
Last US casualties in the war in Afghanistan
In this U.S. Air Force image, flag-draped transfer cases line the interior of a transport aircraft prior to a graceful transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The fallen soldiers were killed while assisting evacuations in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Jason Minto | US Air Force
The Pentagon on Saturday released the names of the 13 US soldiers killed after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near the gates of Kabul airport.
The August 26 attack near the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 11 Marines, one Marine and one Army soldier is currently under investigation.
On Sunday, the President and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Dover Air Force Base to meet privately with the families of the fallen before watching the graceful transfer of American flag-draped suitcases from a C-17 military cargo plane to a vehicle .
A dignified transfer is a solemn process in which the remains of fallen soldiers are transported from an airplane to a waiting vehicle. It is carried out for every U.S. soldier killed in action.
The remains of the soldiers were flown from Kabul to Kuwait and then to Germany before arriving in Dover.
On Sunday, Biden participated in a dignified transfer for the first time since taking office as president.
United States President Joe Biden will attend the dignified transfer of the remains of a fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware on August 29, 2021
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley also attended the dignified transfer, along with U.S. Marine Corps Commander Gen. David Berger, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday and US Air Force Col. Chip Hollinger, who oversaw the military logistics of the transfer.
The fallen include:
Marine Corps Staff Sgt.Din T. Hoover, 31, from Salt Lake City, Utah
Marine Corps Sgt.Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, from Lawrence, Massachusetts
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, from Sacramento, California
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, from Indio, California
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, from Rio Bravo, Texas
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, from St. Charles, Missouri
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, from Rancho Cucamonga, California
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California
Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, from Berlin Heights, Ohio
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.