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Afghanistan: Last man out – US completes withdrawal as final C-17 aircraft leaves Kabul airport | US News

The US has completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan after the last of its planes took off from Kabul airport.

All its service members have now departed, bringing an end to a 20-year campaign that saw more than 2,400 Americans die as well as tens of thousands of Afghans.

A photo of Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, boarding a C-17 cargo plane at Kabul airport was released by the US Department of Defence, as he was the last US service member to leave the country.

General Kenneth F McKenzie earlier announced the “completion of our withdrawal” during a news conference at The Pentagon.

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He said the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was also on the last flight from Kabul.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US’s diplomatic mission to the country would operate from Doha, Qatar, for the time being, as America enters a “new chapter” in ties with Afghanistan.

“The last C-17 lifted off on 30 August at 3.29pm (EDT) and the last manned aircraft is clearing the airspace above Afghanistan now,” said Gen McKenzie, head of US Central Command.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf said it meant Afghanistan had “gained complete independence”, Al Jazeera TV reported, with fighters near the airport firing into the air in celebration.

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General announces end of America’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan

President Joe Biden said he would address the American people on Tuesday afternoon but in a statement hailed the military’s “courage, professionalism, and resolve”.

“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States,” he said.

However, Gen McKenzie acknowledged that while the “vast majority” of Americans who wanted to leave were able to, not everyone got out and that diplomatic means would now be used.

The ISIS-K suicide attack at the airport killed 13 US service personnel and dozens of civilians. Pic: AP
The ISIS-K suicide attack at the airport killed 13 US service personnel and dozens of civilians. Pic: AP

He also warned an estimated 2,000 “hardcore” ISIS fighters were still in Afghanistan.

A regional affiliate of the Islamic State terror group, ISIS-K, was behind last week’s suicide attack at Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members, three Britons and scores of Afghans.

It also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the airport on Monday.

The Taliban established a “firm perimeter” as the final flight left, said Gen McKenzie, and were “helpful and useful” as the US drew a line under two weeks of frantic airlifts.

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Taliban fighters celebrate at Kabul airport

Tens of thousands of Afghans had waited at the airport in desperate conditions in the hope of escaping the new Taliban regime.

Monday night’s pull-out means President Biden has followed through on Donald Trump’s pledge to leave Afghanistan.

However, many have criticised him for pushing ahead with the wind-down after the Taliban seized the opportunity to quickly overrun the Afghan military and take power.

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There are fears that – despite their assurances – the group will reimpose their violent form of Sharia law that previously saw women’s rights reduced to practically zero.

America went into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in order to stop al Qaeda using the country as a base to plan any further attacks.

However, the US presence ended up spanning three decades and became deeply unpopular.

Gen McKenzie told reporters it had “brought Osama bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his al Qaeda co-conspirators”, but that it was “not a cheap mission”.

UK efforts to airlift Britons from Kabul, as well as people such as interpreters who had helped the country, ended on Friday.