Celebratory gunfire resounded across Kabul on Tuesday as Taliban fighters took control of the airport before dawn. The withdrawal of the last US troops marks the end of a 20-year war. It also left the militia stronger than it was in 2001.
Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban showed fighters entering the airport after the last US troops flew out. The US troops left on a C-17 aircraft a minute before midnight. It showed a hasty and humiliating exit for Washington and its NATO allies.
“It is a historical day and a historical moment,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said at the airport after the troops left. “We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power.”
An image from the Pentagon taken with night-vision optics showed the last US soldier to step aboard the final evacuation flight out of Kabul. He was Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
America’s longest war took the lives of nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans. It cost them some $2 trillion.
Those years from 1996 to 2001 saw the Taliban’s brutal enforcement of a wrong interpretation of Islamic law. The world watches now to see if the movement forms a more moderate and inclusive government in the months ahead.
Thousands of Afghans have already fled, fearing Taliban reprisals. More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul by the US and its allies over the past two weeks. Tens of thousands who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.
The last US soldier
Carrying his rifle down by his side, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the storied 82nd Airborne Division, became the last US soldier to board the final flight out of Afghanistan a minute before midnight on Monday.
The Pentagon released the ghostly green and black image of the general striding toward the aircraft at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport. A night vision device took the image from a side window of the C-17 transport plane.
As a moment in history, the image of Donahue’s departure could be cast alongside that of a Soviet general, who led an armored column across the Friendship Bridge to Uzbekistan, when the Red Army made its final exit from Afghanistan in 1989.
Completing a military operation that with the help of allies succeeded in evacuating 123,000 civilians from Afghanistan, the last planeload of US troops left under cover of the night.
Though it is a still image, Donahue appears to be moving briskly, his face expressionless. He is wearing full combat gear, with night vision goggles atop his helmet, and a rifle by his side. He had yet to leave Afghanistan behind, and reach safety.
In contrast, the images of General Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet Union’s 40th Army in Afghanistan, show him walking arm-in-arm with his son on the bridge across the Amu Darya river carrying a bouquet of red and white flowers.
The US and Soviet withdrawals from a country that has become known as a graveyard for empires were conducted in very different ways. But at least they avoided the calamitous defeat suffered by Britain in the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1842.
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