The last U.S. military plane left Kabul Monday night, ending a presence that spanned two decades but failed to defeat the Taliban and left behind tens of thousands of Afghans.
By Adam Nossiter and Eric Schmitt
The last United States forces left Afghanistan late Monday, ending a 20-year occupation that began shortly after the Al Qaeda attacks on 9/11, cost over $2 trillion, took more than 170,000 lives and ultimately failed to defeat the Taliban, the Islamist militants who allowed Al Qaeda to operate there.
Five American C-17 cargo jets flew out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul just before midnight, the officials said, completing a hasty evacuation that left behind tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country, including former members of the security forces and many who held valid visas to enter the United States.
“A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Monday evening. “It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over.”
But the war prosecuted by four presidents over two decades, which gave Afghans a shot at democracy and freed many women to pursue education and careers, failed in nearly every other goal. Ultimately, the Americans handed the country back to the same militants they drove from power in 2001.
Jubilant Taliban fighters and their supporters reveled in victory as the news became clear. Celebratory gunfire broke out across the city in the predawn hours on Tuesday in Kabul, the arc of tracer rounds lighting up the night sky.
“The last American soldiers departed from Kabul airport, and our country has achieved a full independence, thanks to God,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said on Twitter.
Control of the airport was left in the hands of the Taliban, who said they were still working on the shape of their new government.
At the airport, where scenes of mass desperation and carnage this past week became indelible images of the Americans’ final days, only a few hundred Afghans still waited at the gates on Monday night as the last flights departed.
The war began under President George W. Bush as a hunt for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader who oversaw the 9/11 attacks on the United States. On that score, it succeeded: Al Qaeda was driven out and Bin Laden was killed by an American SEAL team in Pakistan in 2011.
But the United States, confident it had routed the Taliban, refused their entreaties for a negotiated surrender and plowed ahead with an enormous effort to not only drive them out but to construct a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan. The lengthy occupation allowed the Taliban to regroup, casting itself as the national resistance to the American invaders and, three American presidents later, driving them out in a war of attrition, much as Afghans had done to the Soviets in the 1980s.
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