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US longest war ends, Taliban fully control Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The United States has completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war and closing a chapter in military history likely to be remembered for colossal failures, unfulfilled promises and a frantic final exit that cost the lives of more than 180 locals and 13 US service members, some barely older than the war.

Hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for shutting down a final airlift, and thus ending the US war, Air Force transport planes carried a remaining contingent of troops from Kabul airport late Monday.

Thousands of troops had spent a harrowing two weeks protecting the airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans, Americans and others seeking to escape a country once again ruled by Taliban militants.

In announcing the completion of the evacuation and war effort. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29 pm Washington time, or one minute before midnight in Kabul.

Taliban spokesman Zabiuuulah Mujahid addressing media and Taliban at Kabul Airport on Tuesday after complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan

He said a number of American citizens, likely numbering in “the very low hundreds,” were left behind, and that he believes they will still be able to leave the country.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken put the number of Americans left behind at under 200, “likely closer to 100,” and said the State Department would keep working to get them out. He praised the military-led evacuation as heroic and historic and said the US diplomatic presence would shift to Doha, Qatar.

Biden said military commanders unanimously favoured ending the airlift, not extending it. He said he asked Blinken to coordinate with international partners in holding the Taliban to their promise of safe passage for Americans and others who want to leave in the days ahead.

The airport had become a US-controlled island, a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.

Afghan Taliban displaying post of their leader Akhunzada in Kabul

The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama. American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats — and at least two actual attacks — by the so-called Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on August 26 killed 13 American service members and some 169 Afghans. More died in various incidents during the airport evacuation.

The final pullout fulfilled Biden’s pledge to end what he called a “forever war” that began in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania.

His decision, announced in April, reflected a national weariness of the Afghanistan conflict. Now he faces criticism at home and abroad, not so much for ending the war as for his handling of a final evacuation that unfolded in chaos and raised doubts about US credibility.

The US war effort at times seemed to grind on with no endgame in mind, little hope for victory and minimal care by Congress for the way tens of billions of dollars were spent for two decades. The human cost piled up — tens of thousands of Americans injured in addition to the dead.

An aerial view of Kabul International Airport

More than 1,100 troops from coalition countries and more than 100,000 Afghan forces and civilians died, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project.

In Biden’s view, the war could have ended 10 years ago with the US killing of Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida extremist network planned and executed the 9/11 plot from an Afghanistan sanctuary. Al-Qaida has been vastly diminished, preventing it thus far from again attacking the United States.

Taliban’s spokesman

The Taliban’s spokesman says they will crack down on the the militant Islamic State (IS) group’s attacks and expects them to end once foreign forces leave the country.

“We hope that those Afghans who are influenced by IS […] will give up their operations on seeing the formation of an Islamic government in the absence of foreigners,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP in a weekend interview.

“If they create a situation for war and continue with their operations, the Islamic government […] we will deal with them,” he added.

A devastating suicide bomb attack claimed by IS outside Kabul airport on Thursday killed scores of people who were hoping to flee the country, as well as 13 US service members.

Retaliatory or pre-emptive strikes by the United States on IS positions over the past few days have angered the movement, however.

The Pentagon said it carried out a drone strike on Sunday against a vehicle threatening Kabul airport that had been linked to IS.

“There is no permission for them to do such operations […] our independence must be respected,” he said.

The evacuation of tens of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who feel at risk of reprisal or repression under the Taliban is due to end on Tuesday, along with the full withdrawal of US and Nato troops.

The militant Islamic State group has been highly critical of the troop withdrawal deal struck between the Taliban and Washington last year, which saw the Taliban offer security guarantees.

One IS commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying jihadists with the US withdrawal deal and vowed to continue its fight, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant communications.

During the Taliban’s prison break spree this summer to free its fighters, many battle-hardened IS militants were also released — increasingly looking like a lethal error.

In recent years, IS has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have massacred civilians at mosques, public squares, schools, and even hospitals.

Taliban seize heavy military equipment

Taliban, at the zenith of power, has now seized the heavy-duty US military equipment, according to the reports. This utterly disappointing news, fell on the American ears like a bomb shell because no one ever thought of it. Rather, it’s a nightmare for US. The equipment’s include 200 helicopters, 75,000 vehicles, 600,000 small arms and light weapons, night-vision goggles, body amour, medical supplies, biometric devices, Humvees and attack aircraft. Moreover, the most dangerous weapon the Taliban have captured is a Russian-made D-30, an artillery gun, said US Republicans Jim Banks. The earlier quarterly report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in July this year said that the US has spent “nearly $88.61 billion to help the Afghan government provide security in Afghanistan” since the fiscal year 2002. The report said that the major portion of the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) that US created in 2005 “is used for Afghan Air Force (AAF) aircraft maintenance” and for paying the salaries of Afghan national defence personnel while the rest was “used for fuel, ammunition, vehicle, facility and equipment maintenance, and various communications and intelligence infrastructure”.