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Chaotic and humiliating farewell: US completes troops withdrawal as final flight leaves Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan: The final US military planes left the Kabul airport, officially ending the United States’s 20-year war in Afghanistan after a chaotic evacuation effort as the Taliban said Afghanistan is a “free and sovereign” nation, describing the departure of US troops as a “historic moment”.

Commander of US Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie  said that the US evacuated 79,000 people from Kabul, including 6,000 American citizens, since August 14, a day before the Taliban took control of the city.

“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” McKenzie told reporters during a news briefing at the Pentagon on Monday.

“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001.”

The Taliban took over Afghanistan earlier this month after a blistering offensive, reaching Kabul on August 15 as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and government forces collapsed.

US forces remained in control of the airport, however, as they worked to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and Afghan allies – and meet an August 31 troop withdrawal deadline set by President Joe Biden.

“Every single American service member is now out of Afghanistan. I can say that with absolute certainty,” McKenzie said on Monday.

The general added that US forces started the evacuations on August 14 with the assumption that Afghan security forces would be a “willing and able” partner, but the Taliban took over the capital a day later. That is when Washington started coordinating the evacuation efforts with the group.

“It’s important to understand that within 48 hours of the execution order, facts on the ground had changed significantly,” McKenzie said. “We have gone from cooperating on security with a longtime partner and ally to initiating a pragmatic relationship of necessity with a longtime enemy.”

The Taliban says Afghanistan is a “free and sovereign” nation as it hails the exit of US troops after 20 years of occupation, describing their departure as a “historic moment”.

Taliban fighters on Tuesday took charge of Kabul’s airport as the last US soldiers flew out of the country. Celebratory gunfire and fireworks lit up the Kabul night sky.

Speaking to reporters from Kabul airport on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “We do not have any doubt that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is a free and sovereign nation.

“America was defeated… and on behalf of my nation, we want to have good relations with the rest of the world,” he said.

He also promised Afghans “will protect our freedom, independence and Islamic values”.

Meanwhile, Tariq Ghazniwal, who runs a Taliban website, has been posting clips of the militant group’s leaders at Kabul airport. In one of them, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid is seen addressing a group of fighters in full combat gear.

He is seen thanking them for their efforts and congratulating them for “gaining independence”.

“We are proud of your sacrifices. This is because of the hardships you and our leaders suffered. It is because of (our leaders’) honesty and patience that we are independent today,” he said.

“So I congratulate you and the Afghan nation. Our wish is that our country will never be invaded again. We want peace, prosperity and a true Islamic system.”

He also urged the Taliban fighters to “be gentle” with the Afghan people.

“I would also like to ask you to be careful in how you deal with your people. This nation has suffered a lot. The Afghan people deserve to be treated with love and sympathy. So, be gentle to them. We are their servants. We have not imposed ourselves on them.”

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