NATIONAL NEWS

Last troops exit Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war

Aug 30, 2021, 2:53 PM | Updated: Aug 31, 2021, 8:14 am
A US Air Force cargo plane arrives to the special terminal at the Pristina International Airport wi...
A US Air Force cargo plane arrives to the special terminal at the Pristina International Airport with more than a hundred Afghan evacuees onboard on August 29, 2021 in Pristina, Kosovo. Kosovo has agreed to temporarily house at-risk Afghan nationals, at the request of the United States. (Photo by Ferdi Limani/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ferdi Limani/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, some barely older than the war.

Hours before President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for shutting down a final airlift, and thus ending the U.S. 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 U.S. Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport one minute before midnight in Kabul. He said some 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 still in Afghanistan at under 200, “likely closer to 100,” and said the State Department would keep working to get them out. He said the U.S. diplomatic presence would shift to Doha, Qatar.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said Tuesday that the mission to get Americans out continues.

“It’s just that it has shifted from a military mission to a diplomatic mission,” Sullivan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He cited “considerable leverage” over the Taliban to get Americans out.

Biden was set to address the nation on Afghanistan later Tuesday.

Biden said in a written statement Monday that military commanders unanimously favored 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 U.S.-controlled island, a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.

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 Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on Aug. 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 Sept. 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 U.S. credibility.

The U.S. 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.

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 U.S. 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.

Congressional committees, whose interest in the war waned over the years, are expected to hold public hearings on what went wrong in the final months of the U.S. withdrawal. Why, for example, did the administration not begin earlier the evacuation of American citizens as well as Afghans who had helped the U.S. war effort?

It was not supposed to end this way. The administration’s plan, after declaring its intention to withdraw all combat troops, was to keep the U.S. Embassy in Kabul open, protected by a force of about 650 U.S. troops, including a contingent that would secure the airport along with partner countries. Washington planned to give the now-defunct Afghan government billions more to prop up its army.

Biden now faces doubts about his plan to prevent al-Qaida from regenerating in Afghanistan and of suppressing threats posed by other extremist groups such as the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. The Taliban are enemies of the Islamic State group but retain links to a diminished al-Qaida.

The speed with which the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15 caught the Biden administration by surprise. It forced the U.S. to empty its embassy and frantically accelerate an evacuation effort that featured an extraordinary airlift executed mainly by the U.S. Air Force, with American ground forces protecting the airfield. The airlift began in such chaos that a number of Afghans died on the airfield, including at least one who attempted to cling to the airframe of a C-17 transport plane as it sped down the runway.

By the evacuation’s conclusion, well over 100,000 people, mostly Afghans, had been flown to safety. The dangers of carrying out such a mission came into tragic focus last week when the suicide bomber struck outside an airport gate.

Speaking shortly after that attack, Biden stuck to his view that ending the war was the right move. The war’s start was an echo of a promise President George W. Bush made while standing atop of the rubble in New York City three days after hijacked airliners slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Less than a month later, on Oct. 7, Bush launched the war. The Taliban’s forces were overwhelmed and Kabul fell in a matter of weeks. A U.S.-installed government led by Hamid Karzai took over and bin Laden and his al-Qaida cohort escaped across the border into Pakistan.

The initial plan was to extinguish bin Laden’s al-Qaida, which had used Afghanistan as a staging base for its attack on the United States. The grander ambition was to fight a “Global War on Terrorism” based on the belief that military force could somehow defeat Islamic extremism. Afghanistan was but the first round of that fight. Bush chose to make Iraq the next, invading in 2003 and getting mired in an even deadlier conflict that made Afghanistan a secondary priority until Barack Obama assumed the White House in 2009 and later that year decided to escalate in Afghanistan.

Obama pushed U.S. troop levels to 100,000, but the war dragged on though bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in 2011.

When Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017 he wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan but was persuaded not only to stay but to add several thousand U.S. troops and escalate attacks on the Taliban. Two years later his administration was looking for a deal with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the two sides signed an agreement that called for a complete U.S. withdrawal by May 2021. In exchange, the Taliban made a number of promises including a pledge not to attack U.S. troops.

Biden weighed advice from members of his national security team who argued for retaining the 2,500 troops who were in Afghanistan by the time he took office in January. But in mid-April he announced his decision to fully withdraw.

The Taliban pushed an offensive that by early August toppled key cities, including provincial capitals. The Afghan army largely collapsed, sometimes surrendering rather than taking a final stand, and shortly after President Ashraf Ghani fled the capital, the Taliban rolled into Kabul and assumed control on Aug. 15.

Some parts of the country modernized during the U.S. war years, and life for many Afghans, especially women and girls, improved measurably. But Afghanistan remains a tragedy, poor, unstable and with many of its people fearing a return to the brutality the country endured when the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Law enforcement officers aim their weapons at a home during a standoff in Grants Pass, Ore., on Tue...
Associated Press

Oregon kidnapping suspect dies of self-inflicted gunshot

The suspect in a violent kidnapping in Oregon has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
1 day ago
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference after a Federal Open M...
Christopher Rugaber, AP Economics Writer

Fed lifts rate by quarter-point and signals more hikes ahead

The Federal Reserve extended its fight against high inflation Wednesday by raising its key interest rate by a quarter-point, its eighth hike since March.
1 day ago
Six-year-old Mason Stonehouse was playing on his dad’s phone before bedtime and spent about $1,00...
CNN

Michigan six-year-old orders $1,000 worth of food on Grubhub

A six-year-old as playing on his dad's phone before bedtime and spent about $1,000 on Grubhub orders.
1 day ago
FILE - U.S. Secret Service agents are seen in front of Joe Biden's Rehoboth Beach, Del., home on Ja...
Eric Tucker, Colleen Long and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

Biden lawyer: FBI finds no classified docs at beach house

The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched President Joe Biden's vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Wednesday without finding any classified documents, the president's personal attorney said.
1 day ago
Soundgarden performs on stage for Guitar Hero game...
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

Missy, Willie and George Michael among Rock Hall nominees

Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden, Cyndi Lauper, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow and the late George Michael are nominees for 2023 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a list that includes a mix of country, soul, hip-hop, metal, pop, rap-rock and grunge.
1 day ago
Mourners sit next to a candle display during a vigil for Tyre Nichols at Regency Community Skatepar...
Aaron Morrison and Travis Loller, Associated Press

‘We’re all Tyre’: Family prepares to lay Nichols to rest

The family of Tyre Nichols plans to lay him to rest Wednesday, three weeks after he died following a brutal beating by Memphis police that was captured on disturbing video that prompted nationwide protests and renewed calls for police reform.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Last troops exit Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war