The United States completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan on Monday, ending 20 years of war that culminated in the militant Taliban’s return to power.
Forced into a hasty and humiliating exit, the United States and its NATO allies carried out a massive but chaotic airlift over the past two weeks, but still left behind tens of thousands of Afghans who helped Western countries and might have qualified for evacuation.
Celebratory gunfire rang out in Kabul after completion of the pullout that ended America’s longest war.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf told Al-Jazeera: “The last U.S. soldier has left Kabul airport and our country gained complete independence.”
A contingent of Americans, estimated by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as under 200 and possibly closer to 100, wanted to leave but were unable to get on the last flights.
President Joe Biden, in a statement, defended his decision to stick to a Tuesday deadline for withdrawing forces even though it meant not everyone who wanted out could get out.
He 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. He plans to address the American people on Tuesday.
The 20-year conflict took the lives of nearly 2,500 U.S. troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans and cost some $2 trillion.