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Last American troops pull out of Afghanistan to end 20-year war

The last American soldier leaves Afghanistan -- Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, boards a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@CENTCOM)

The United States completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan on Monday night, ending its longest war that stretched over 20 years but ultimately saw the Taliban militants sweep back to power in Kabul again.

General Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said at a Pentagon briefing that the chief U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was on the last C-17 flight out, which left at one minute before midnight in Kabul.

"Every single U.S. service member is now out of Afghanistan. I can say that with 100% certainty," he said.

The US forces have withdrawn a day ahead of Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline which the NATO allies had wanted to be postponed, but the US President refused to budge.

The General admitted that several Afghans who had helped Western forces in the war and were supposed to be evacuated to safety had been left behind in the massive but chaotic 15-day evacuation. 

"There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we'd stayed another 10 days, we wouldn't have gotten everybody out," McKenzie told journalists.

Celebratory gunfire reverberated in Kabul after completion of the U.S. pullout. "The last U.S. soldier has left Kabul airport and our country gained complete independence," Al Jazeera TV reported Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf as saying.

A contingent of Americans, estimated by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as under 200 wanted to leave but were also unable to get on the last flights.

President Joe Biden, in a statement, defended his decision to stick to a Tuesday deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces even though it meant not living up to the promise of evacuating thousands of at-risk Afghans who now face reprisals from the new Taliban rulers.

Biden said the world would hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow safe passage for those to want to leave Afghanistan.

"Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended," said Biden, who thanked the U.S. military for carrying out the dangerous evacuation.

Biden has come in for heavy criticism from Republicans and also some of his fellow Democrats over his handling of the Afghanistan situation.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the U.S. withdrawal a “national disgrace” that was “the direct result of President Biden’s cowardice and incompetence.”

Biden has said the United States long ago achieved the objectives it set in ousting the Taliban in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. His predecessor Donald Trump had also stated this when he took the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Biden had stuck to the decision.

As many as 2,500 U.S. troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans are reported to have been killed in the bloody war that cost the US a phenomenal $2 trillion. Ironically the war started and ended with the Taliban in power despite the huge cost in human lives and economic resources.

Also read: UK reaches out to Russia and China as global equations shift in Afghanistan