The US has completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, US officials told Reuters on Monday, following a chaotic airlift nearly 20 years after it invaded the country in the wake of the September 11th, 2001, attacks on America.
More than 122,000 people have been airlifted out of Kabul since August 14th, the day before the Taliban regained control of the country two decades after being removed from power by the US-led invasion in 2001.
The US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke to Reuters after the US’s last troops sent to evacuate Americans and Afghans at risk following the Taliban’s return to power flew out of the capital Kabul.
Amid the airlift, the US and its western allies scrambled to save citizens of their own countries as well as translators, local embassy staff, civil rights activists, journalists and other Afghans vulnerable to reprisals.
The evacuations became even more perilous when a suicide bomb attack claimed by Islamic State – an enemy of both the West and the Taliban – killed scores of Afghans waiting by the airport gates as well as 13 US service members on Thursday.
The operation came to an end before the Tuesday deadline set by US president Joe Biden, who inherited a troop withdrawal deal made with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump and decided earlier this year to complete the pull-out.
Mr Biden, who faced intense criticism at home and abroad over his decisions on the withdrawal, promised after the bloody Kabul airport attack to hunt down the people responsible.
The US had dramatically scaled back its evacuation mission in Afghanistan earlier on Monday, with the number of civilians being airlifted out of Kabul falling sharply.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said military commanders were sharing some drawdown logistics with Taliban commanders to “deconflict and prevent miscalculations and misunderstandings”.
The pace of the airlift had slowed significantly in recent days as the US switched its focus from evacuating civilians to withdrawing its troops and equipment.
The US on Monday said its military had evacuated some 1,200 people over the previous 24 hours, compared with 6,800 on Friday and almost 13,000 a day at the peak of the operation last week. The Taliban has told Afghans they will be blocked from going to the airport even if they had visas and documents.
Turkey was in talks with the Taliban to take control of the airport and provide security after the US forces depart. It is understood that this would allow commercial flights to resume once some damage to the airport is repaired.
Irish officials see this as the best route to secure the safe exit of some 60 Irish nationals and 15 Afghans who have Irish residency from the country. Consular staff are in regular communication with those Irish citizens and residents still in Afghanistan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said.
There is an increasingly dangerous security situation in Kabul, where the airport has also been targeted by unsuccessful rocket attacks, which Islamic State claimed responsibility for.
US defence officials said five rockets were fired at the airport on Monday, but no casualties were reported.
The US has carried out at least two drone strikes in retaliation for Thursday’s bombing.
The Pentagon said it was “investigating” reports that about 10 civilians were killed in a strike on Sunday. “We are not in a position to dispute it,” said Mr Kirby, who added that no military “on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the US military”.
– Copyright Reuters/The Financial Times Limited 2021