For the first time in two decades, there are zero US troops on the ground in Afghanistan after Washington executed a successful final extraction – one day ahead of a looming deadline – leaving the country’s fate in the hands of the Taliban.
On Monday, US CENTCOM chief Kenneth McKenzie announced that all remaining US service members have been removed from Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline.
The last US C-17 military aircraft left Kabul airport at 3:29 p.m. EST with Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson aboard, which put an end to a botched evacuation that has become a political disaster for President Joe Biden.
The move puts an end to America’s longest war, which began on October 7, 2001, initially in search of the al-Qaeda terrorist group and its leader Osama Bin Laden.
However, after toppling the Taliban the original occupation morphed into a counterinsurgency effort while Washington backed what many perceived as a corrupt government in Kabul, which guaranteed an insurgent comeback.
In the end, the very same Taliban movement the United States ousted in 2001 is now back in power after a lightning seizure of Kabul earlier in August.
US and coalition forces evacuated more than 123,000 civilians from Afghanistan before the final departure, while American military leaders acknowledged the final evacuation would not be possible without assistance from the Taliban, who established a firm perimeter around the Kabul airport on Monday that prevented terrorists from taking advantage of the situation.
“Every single US service member is now out of Afghanistan. I can say it with 100 percent certainty,” McKenzie said during a press briefing on Monday. “The military phase of this operation has ended, diplomatic sequel to that will now begin.”
However, the CENTCOM chief also warned that some 2,000 “hardcore” IS fighters are in Afghanistan right now, and the terror threat remains high. He also said that although all evacuees have left, less than 200 Americans still remain in Afghanistan.
After the exit, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a notice warning that Kabul airport is no longer controlled and aircraft should use extreme caution when landing there.
In addition to pulling all forces, the US closed its diplomatic presence in Kabul and transferred operations to Doha, including consular affairs and administration of aid, which would be delivered under certain conditions.
“The United States will continue to support humanitarian aid to the Afghan people… [but] consistent with our sanctions on the Taliban, the aid will not flow through the government, but rather through independent organizations, such as UN agencies and NGOs,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech after announcing the diplomatic move to Doha.
Biden said he will address the American people on Tuesday about the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. He also said he asked Blinken to coordinate with international partners to ensure safe passage for Americans, Afghan partners, and foreign nationals who want to leave.
Meanwhile, also on Monday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that says it expects the Taliban to allow Afghans and foreigners to safely leave the country, with abstentions by China and Russia.
IN TALIBAN HANDS
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Afghans may now choose the path for their country in full sovereignty following the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
“With the departure of our military and those of the many partners who stood with us, Afghans face a moment of decision and opportunity,” Khalilzad said via Twitter on Monday. “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.”
However, the Taliban would make clear that the country of Afghanistan was now in their hands.
“The last foreign serviceman has left the territory of Afghanistan. Now the entire territory of the country is under the control of the Taliban. Now our state has become free and independent,” Mohammad Naim, a spokesman for the movement’s political office, told Sputnik.
The Taliban also called on the international community to provide support to the Afghan people in the economy, education and health care, a spokesman for the movement told Al Jazeera television.