Taliban forces took complete charge of the Kabul airport after all remaining US troops left the country late at night on Monday, August 30. The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan becoming a “free and sovereign” nation after 20 years of US-led occupation with gunfire and fireworks.
On the early morning of August 31, the Taliban’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid addressed the Taliban troops at the airport and asked them to protect “our freedom, independence, and Islamic values,” Al-Jazeera reported.
The US secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, confirmed that the evacuation of its civilians and military personnel from Afghanistan is complete. The longest war in the history of the US has ended, he said. Austin also said in a tweet that the US lost 2,461 soldiers in the Afghanistan war, and “tens of thousands of others suffered wounds, seen and unseen.”
The end of this operation also signals the end of America’s longest war. We lost 2,461 troops in that war, and tens of thousands of others suffered wounds, seen and unseen. The scars of combat don’t heal easily, and often never heal at all. (4/5)
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) August 31, 2021
The US secretary of state Antony Blinken declared that the US diplomatic mission has temporarily shifted to Doha from Kabul. He said that with the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, “a new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun” in which “we will lead with our diplomacy.”
Compliance with the Doha Agreement
The US troops invaded Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in October 2001 as a part of the NATO-led coalition to launch the so-called “war on terror” after the World Trade Centre attacks. President Joe Biden had advanced the date of complete withdrawal to August 31 from the earlier announced date of September 11. The date was brought closer after the Taliban pressured the US to comply with the agreement signed in Doha between the two in February 2020. In the agreement, the original date of withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan was May 31.
The process was delayed as there was uncertainty following the presidential elections in the US.
Despite spending two decades in Afghanistan, the US and other foreign troops failed to prevent the Taliban from taking control of the country. The so-called democratic system it created in 2004 lost public trust due to endemic corruption and a lack of popular roots. The last elected president Ashraf Ghani and most of his cabinet had to flee the country when the Taliban took over capital Kabul on August 15.
In the last two decades, the US spent over USD 2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan and lost over 6,000 people, most of whom were mercenaries from the US. The war also caused the death of thousands of Afghan civilians. Most of them died in the crossfire between warring factions, including the foreign troops, or in the indiscriminate bombings carried out by the US and foreign troops.
The US had around 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan before the final withdrawal began earlier in August. The Joe Biden administration had to deploy about 4,000 additional troops to facilitate the withdrawal process.
On Monday, Central Command Commander General Kenneth McKenzie issued a series of tweets in which he announced that all those troops have been completely withdrawn. He also claimed that the US and coalition forces evacuated 123,000 people from Kabul, including 6,000 US citizens, since August 14.
In awe of our Sky Dragon Soldiers.
This was an incredibly tough, pressurized mission filled with multiple complexities, with active threats the entire time. Our troops displayed grit, discipline and empathy.
Below is a picture of the last Soldier to leave Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/LnhBGHUf0M
— XVIII Airborne Corps (@18airbornecorps) August 30, 2021
His speech, however, was criticized by several activists who mentioned how McKenzie refrained from mentioning the deaths of thousands of civilians caused by the US attacks in the last twenty years and how it revealed its complete disregard for Afghans.
Breaking: Pentagon announces withdrawal from Afghanistan. General McKenzie mourns loss of US life in last 20 years. He did not even MENTION all the Afghan lives lost. That says it all. pic.twitter.com/1PJzLGNbEu
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) August 30, 2021
In the last days of the withdrawal, the US lost 13 soldiers in a blast at the Kabul airport. The attack resulted in the death of more than 170 other Afghans. The US caused the death of another 10 civilians, including seven children, on Monday when it claimed to have targeted ISIS-K operatives in a drone attack in a residential building in Kabul.