Newswire: US departs Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war

From The Washington Post

The United States ended its longest war in history, and its 20-year presence in Afghanistan, as the last U.S. aircraft took off at one minute before midnight from Kabul airport Monday, August 30, carrying all remaining American troops and diplomats. “I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., said at a news conference about an hour later as the final C-17 plane cleared Afghan airspace. The last to leave, he said, were Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and acting American ambassador Ross Wilson. President Biden issued a written statement saying he would address the American people Tuesday afternoon. The statement said that the decision to end the final U.S. military mission, which evacuated more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and others over the past several weeks, was the “unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all our commanders on the ground.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a formal address, said the U.S. diplomatic mission to Afghanistan would be transferred for the time being to Doha, Qatar. From there, he said, “we will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans” at risk “to leave Afghanistan if they choose,” as well as what he said would be ongoing humanitarian and counterterrorism operations. He said fewer than 200 American citizens are believed to still be in Afghanistan. Calling it a “massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking,” Blinken said the evacuation mission was “one of the most difficult in our nation’s history.” The costs of the war were immense, lasting through four administrations — more than 2,400 U.S. military deaths and tens of thousands of Afghans killed, and trillions of defense and development dollars spent. Yet at the end of the day, the final departure returned Afghanistan to the undisputed rule of the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist militants whom U.S. forces ousted from power in 2001 and battled for nearly two decades. After years of ups and downs on the battlefield, and in the size of the American and allied forces, which had dwindled to a few thousand during the Trump administration, the end came quickly. In barely a month, the Taliban spread its control to all major cities, and the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. The U.S. military has been in regular contact with Taliban officials since their arrival in Kabul two weeks ago, and McKenzie described their communications as “pragmatic” and “businesslike” as they did not contest U.S. control of the Kabul airport. He said Donahue had spoken with his Taliban liaison just before departure. “They established a firm perimeter outside of the airfield to prevent people from coming onto the airfield during our departure, and we worked on that with them for a number of days,” he said. “They did not have direct knowledge of our time of departure — we chose to keep that information very restricted — but they were actually very helpful and useful to us as we closed down operations.” U.S. officials said that a total of 122,000 men, women and children — 79,000 of them on American military aircraft and the rest on charter and allied military flights — were flown out of the country in a heroic and unprecedented airlift, as the Biden administration struggled to meet its own Aug. 31 deadline. The White House has said the number included about 6,000 Americans who were evacuated or otherwise departed Afghanistan since Aug. 14. But the administration acknowledged that many were left behind, including American citizens whom McKenzie estimated number in the “low hundreds,” and tens of thousands of Afghans who aided the U.S. and allied effort over the years but were unable or unwilling to breach the danger and chaos of reaching the airport. “There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” McKenzie said. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out.”

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