The last United States forces left Afghanistan late Monday, ending a 20-year occupation that began shortly after Al Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11, cost over $2 trillion, took more than 170,000 lives and ultimately failed to defeat the Taliban, the Islamist militants who allowed Al Qaeda to operate there.
Five American C-17 cargo jets flew out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul just before midnight, the officials said, completing a hasty evacuation that left behind tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country, including former members of the security forces and many who held valid visas to enter the United States.
“A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday evening. “It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over.”
But the war prosecuted by four presidents over two decades, which gave Afghans a shot at democracy and freed many women to pursue education and careers, failed in nearly every other goal. Ultimately, the Americans handed the country back to the same militants they drove from power in 2001.
scenes of mass desperation and carnage this past week became indelible images of the Americans’ final days, only a few hundred Afghans still waited at the gates on Monday night as the last flights departed.
Bin Laden was killed by an American SEAL team in Pakistan in 2011.
But the United States, confident it had routed the Taliban, refused their entreaties for a negotiated surrender and plowed ahead with an enormous effort to not only drive them out but to construct a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan. The lengthy occupation allowed the Taliban to regroup, casting itself as the national resistance to the American invaders and, three American presidents later, driving them out in a war of attrition, much as Afghans had done to the Soviets in the 1980s.
The United States departure was marred by a ghastly burst of civilian casualties that seemed emblematic of the American missteps in the war.
A drone strike that the U.S. military said was aimed at thwarting an attack on the airport killed 10 civilians, survivors said, including seven children, an aid worker for an American charity organization, and a contractor with the U.S. military.