US President Joe Biden said that he would address the American people on Tuesday on his decision not to extend our presence in Afghanistan beyond August 31. His announcement came as America’s longest war ended ignobly, in the dead of night in the now Taliban-controlled nation.
“I want to thank our commanders and the men and women serving under them for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled – in the early morning hours of August 31, Kabul time – with no further loss of American lives," Biden said.
A giant C-17 transport laden with troops and the US ambassador flew out of Kabul airport a minute before midnight local time on August 31, the deadline set by the US President Joe Biden. That brought to an end a helter-skelter airlift that evacuated more than 120,000 people fleeing the harsh rule of the Islamist Taliban, who seized power a fortnight earlier — two decades after US-led forces drove them from power.
“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve. Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended," the US President announced.
The image of Joe Biden attending a ceremony for their flag-draped caskets on Sunday at the air force base in Dover, Delaware, could well be the lasting one of America’s war. Five of the 13 were just 20 years old, meaning they were infants when Al-Qaeda, based in Afghanistan and protected by the Taliban, launched the September 11, 2001 attacks that sparked the conflict.
“I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned. Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead," Biden said.
“I have asked the Secretary of State to lead the continued coordination with our international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, Afghan partners, and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan. This will include work to build on the UN Security Council Resolution passed this afternoon that sent the clear message of what the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on moving forward, notably freedom of travel," the US President added.
With great irony, the US exit depended heavily on trusting the Taliban to provide security around the airport against the Islamic State threat. “The Taliban have been very pragmatic and very businesslike," said General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central command.
The primary front of the “War on Terror" declared after the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan became almost an afterthought as the administration of George W. Bush decided in 2003 to invade Iraq as well to oust then-leader Saddam Hussein. Rather than exit either after victory, the US took on nation-building tasks which it had not prepared for.
The end began under president Donald Trump, who came to office in 2016 promising to end the “Forever Wars." After initially increasing troops to 16,000, with no lasting impact on the Taliban, he entered negotiations with the insurgents.
In a February 2020 agreement Washington committed to withdrawing by May 1 this year. The Taliban agreed to enter peace negotiations with Kabul, and to not attack American troops in the meantime. But they then stepped up their campaign against Afghan government forces, who were immensely dependent on the United States.
“The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments. It will include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan," Biden said.
He added that till then, he would urge all Americans to join him in grateful prayer for three things. “First, for our troops and diplomats who carried out this mission of mercy in Kabul and at tremendous risk with such unparalleled results: an airlift that evacuated tens of thousands more people than any imagined possible. Second, to the network of volunteers and veterans who helped identify those needing evacuation, guide them to the airport, and provide support along the way. And third, to everyone who is now – and who will – welcome our Afghan allies to their new homes around the world, and in the United States," Biden said.