Last US troops leave
TALIBAN FIGHTERS CELEBRATE AS UNITED STATES TROOPS LEAVE AFGHANISTAN
KABUL: Celebratory gunfire has echoed across Kabul as Taliban fighters took control of the airport before dawn following the withdrawal of the last of the American troops, ending 20 years of war that left the Islamic militia stronger than it was in 2001.
Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban on Tuesday showed fighters entering the airport after the last troops from the United States took off a minute before midnight, marking the end of a hasty and humiliating exit for Washington and its NATO allies.
‘‘The last US soldier has left Kabul airport and our country gained complete independence,’’ Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf said, according to Al Jazeera TV.
The US Army shared an image taken with night-vision optics of the last US soldier to step aboard the final evacuation flight out of Kabul: MajorGeneral Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
America’s longest war took the lives of nearly 2500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans, and cost some $US 2 trillion ($A 2.7 trillion).
Although it succeeded in driving the Taliban from power and stopped Afghanistan being used as a base by al Qaeda to attack the US, it ended with the hardline Islamic militants controlling more of the country than they ever did during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001.
A massive but chaotic airlift by the US and its allies over the past two weeks succeeded in evacuating more than 122,000 people from Kabul, but still left behind tens of thousands of Afghans who helped Western countries and fear reprisals by the Taliban.
A contingent of Americans, estimated by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as under 200 and possibly closer to 100, wanted to leave but were unable to get on the last f lights.
In a statement, US President Joe Biden defended his decision to stick to a Tuesday deadline for withdrawing US forces. He said the world would hold the Taliban to its commitment to allow safe passage for those who want to leave Afghanistan.
‘‘Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,’’ Mr Biden said, thanking the US military for carrying out the dangerous evacuation.
Mr Biden has said the US long ago achieved the objectives it set in ousting the Taliban in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda militants who masterminded the September 11 attacks on the US.
The president has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans and some of his fellow Democrats for his handling of Afghanistan since the Taliban took over Kabul earlier this month after a lightning advance and the collapse of the US-backed government.
Mr Blinken said the US was prepared to work with the new Taliban government if it does not carry out reprisals against opponents in the country.
‘‘The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our position is any legitimacy and support will have to be earned,’’ he said.
The Taliban must revive a warshattered economy without being able to count on the billions of dollars in foreign aid that flowed to the previous ruling elite and fed systemic corruption.
The population outside the cities is facing what United Nations officials have called a catastrophic humanitarian situation worsened by a severe drought.