KABUL, Afghanistan – The last U.S. military plane departed Afghanistan on Monday night, officially ending the longest war in U.S. history while Taliban fighters celebrated driving out the world’s most powerful military from one of the world’s poorest countries.
The Taliban, who governed the country under a radical interpretation of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001, now control all of Afghanistan other than the Panjshir province where a few thousand members of Afghanistan’s collapsed security forces have pledged to resist Taliban rule.
In addition to facing the challenge of governing one of the poorest and war-stricken nations in the world, the Taliban face many security barriers, more recently involving the radical Islamic State’s suicide bombing at Kabul airport, which killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, and rockets being fired at the airport on Monday, the New York Times reported. The Taliban vow that Afghanistan, under their rule, will no longer be a base for terror attacks.
In a press conference on August 26, the president pledged that the United States would “hunt down” those responsible for the Kabul airport attacks and has asked the Pentagon to develop plans to strike back.
The U.S. and its allies infiltrated Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, which Al-Qaida organized under Taliban rule, driving the Taliban from power and dispersing top Al-Qaida leaders such as Osama Bin Laden to surrounding territories. The U.S. and its allies invested billions of dollars to attempt to rebuild Afghanistan after decades of war in a Western-style government. While the U.S. steered its focus to conflicts in Iraq, the Taliban regrouped in the surrounding country of Pakistan, leading to their eventual takeover earlier this month.
“I have a mixture of emotions [about the Taliban taking over Kabul],” Jared Rinehart, former Lynnwood resident and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran serving in the Middle East, told the Lynnwood Times. “I wanted it to mean something, but when this event happened, I think it confirmed that for me that there was no big purpose, and that hurts.”
Rinehart clarified that he does not believe the efforts of him and his comrades were pointless, but the retreat by U.S. forces has left him wondering why they were deployed in the first place.
On April 14, 2021, President Joe Biden announced the removal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, an extension of the Trump administration’s original peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government to evacuate by May 1.
“The United States will begin its final withdrawal…on May 1 of this year,” Biden said. “We’ll not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely.”
In 2019, the Trump administration set out to start negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government and signed the peace deal on February 29, 2020.
The agreement with the Taliban was conditions-based which included not allowing members, individuals, or groups, including Al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
“After the announcement of guarantees for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and timeline in the presence of international witnesses, and guarantees and the announcement of international witnesses that Afghan soil will not be used against the security for the United States and its allies, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides on March 10, 2020, which corresponds to Rajab 15, 1441 on the Hijiri Lunar calendar and Hoot 20, 1398 on the Hijiri Solar calendar,” the agreement states.
Over the next 14 months, the plan was to begin withdrawing troops, completely leaving Afghanistan no later than May 1, 2021.
Also included in the agreement was the United States and its allies refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan as well as intervention in its domestic affairs.
On March 25, 2021, Biden said during a press conference that the May 1 deadline to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan will be “hard to meet” for “tactical reasons.”
However, the President was not the only member of the agreement to breach contract; the Taliban also did not adhere to the conditions of their peace agreement.
According to a United Nations report on August 6, four months after Biden’s announcement, since Mid-April, these groups launched more than 5,500 attacks in 31 of 34 provinces. The report also mentioned that more than 20 groups, including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), are fighting alongside the Taliban against the Afghan population and security forces.
Despite U.S. Intelligence speculating the Afghan government would “likely collapse,” Biden was adamant a Taliban takeover was not inevitable due to the Afghan army consisting of an air force and 300,000 well-equipped soldiers against roughly 75,000 Taliban soldiers.
In June, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Afghan government could collapse as quickly as six months following the retreat of the U.S. military; however, Biden noted that the Taliban takeover “did unfold quicker than [the U.S.] anticipated,” in a press conference.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Biden’s “well-equipped” Afghan soldiers often surrendered during the 5,000 plus attacks, leaving their abandoned military equipment to the Taliban.
In April, top U.S. military generals favored holding the line at 2,500 troops while negotiators pursued a peace deal. Not only did Biden ignore this advice but he later denied during an interview with Stephen Stephanopoulos that he ever received that advice.
On August 23, Representative Adam Schiff told reporters in a news conference it is “unlikely” that all U.S. troops could be evacuated by the August 31 deadline.
“Given the logistical difficulties of moving people to the airport and the limited number of workarounds, it’s hard for me to see that be fully complete by the end of the month,” Schiff said.
After the last U.S. military plane left Monday, it is speculated that between 100 and 200 American soldiers and tens of thousands of America’s Afghan allies were left behind.
Gaining access to the Kabul airport, the only airport in the country escapable by military flight, was not an easy task after the Taliban surrounded the perimeter, restricting access.
C.N.N. reported that U.S. special operations groups set up a “secret gate” at the Kabul airport to help Americans with the evacuation process.
Secretary of State Lloyd Austen said in a press conference on August 18 that the U.S. did not have the capability to collect large numbers of stranded Americans outside the perimeter of the airport, relying on the peace agreement with the Taliban to ensure Americans escape. Meanwhile, British and French forces conducted operations to assist their citizens, leaving many to question why the U.S. could not have performed similar rescues.
According to a report by Politico on August 26, U.S. officials gave a list of names of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies to the Taliban, which have a history of murdering Afghans collaborating with the U.S. during the conflict, to gain entry to the military-controlled outer perimeter of the city’s airport, outraging lawmakers and military officials who believed they had just condemned them to “death list.”
Responding to these remaining American troops left to face Taliban rule, a volunteer group of covert American military veterans has been helping hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety in a night-time operation called “Pineapple Express,” ABC News reported, rescuing over 500 Afghan special operators, assets, and enablers into the secured areas of the U.S.-controlled Hamid Karzai International airport.
The last plane leaving Kabul escorted as many as 1,500 Afghans to safety, meeting the August 31 deadline. General Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said there were no American citizens left stranded at the airport.
August 23 marked the largest day of evacuation flights, reported MSN news, with 28 U.S. military flights escorting about 10,400 people to safety.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. Government is working on ways to help the remaining 100 to 200 American citizens who were unable to get to the airport by the deadline and want out, via overland routes to Qatar.
The Taliban said they would allow all foreign nationals and Afghan citizens, with travel authorization from another country, to leave Afghanistan, according to a joint statement issued by the U.S. and more than 100 other countries on Sunday, ABC News reported.
“When I think about the innocent people out there who are just trying to live their life, my heart goes out for them, who have not only been fighting for that peace but are now at risk of becoming martyrs for that cause by the Taliban,” Rinehart, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and former Lynnwood resident, told the Lynnwood Times.