The United States has completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, ending America's longest war after 20 years and a chaotic final evacuation that left behind thousands of Afghans looking to escape Taliban rule.
General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said all U.S. forces had left Kabul airport on August 30 in line with an August 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
"I'm here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens," McKenzie told a press briefing.
Celebratory gunfire rang out in Kabul in the early hours of August 31 as the Taliban marked the moment.
“American soldiers left the Kabul airport, and our nation got its full independence," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
The United States and its allies evacuated more than 122,000 people out of Kabul since August 14, the day before the Taliban regained control of the country two decades after being removed from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
McKenzie said the United States was able to evacuate the “vast majority” of American citizens who wanted to leave, estimated at about 6,000.
Biden, in a statement, said he would address the nation on August 31 as he praised the U.S. military for conducting “the largest airlift in U.S. history.”
“Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” he said.
In his address, the president said he will discuss his decision to stick to the August 31 deadline for withdrawal, which was the “unanimous recommendation” of military commanders.
When the Western-backed government and Afghan National Army collapsed under a lightning Taliban offensive, the United States and its allies scrambled to save their citizens as well as at-risk Afghans, many of whom had worked with the international mission.
The evacuation witnessed the Taliban cooperating with U.S. forces sent to Kabul airport, something that would have been unthinkable during earlier periods of the long, grinding conflict. McKenzie described the Taliban as having been “very pragmatic and very businesslike” during the evacuations and as the U.S. military prepared to exit the country.
Thousands of Afghans looking to escape Taliban rule were left behind as the deadline rapidly approached and evacuations became more dangerous when a suicide bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State -- a foe of the Taliban -- killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. soldiers outside the airport.
The Taliban has said it will allow normal travel after assuming control of the Kabul airport, and the United States and more than 100 countries said in a statement on August 29 that the Taliban had provided assurances that it will continue to allow foreigners and Afghans with foreign travel papers to leave the country "in a safe and orderly manner."
Earlier on August 30, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution requiring the Taliban to honor its commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan. The resolution –- which passed with 13 votes in favor, with China and Russia abstaining -- says the council expects the Taliban to allow a "safe, secure, and orderly departure from Afghanistan of Afghans and all foreign nationals."
In his statement, Biden said the United States would continue to work with international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, at-risk Afghans, and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan.
“The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments. It will include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan,” Biden said.