Last U.S. planes have flown out of Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A Taliban guard at Kabul’s airport says the last U.S. planes have flown out and celebratory gunfire erupted across the Afghan capital marking the symbolic end of 20 years of war. In Washington, the U.S. confirmed the withdrawal of its last troops, which faced a self-imposed Tuesday deadline.
Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter stationed at the airport, said early Tuesday the last five U.S. planes departed around midnight. That would mark the end of a massive airlift that has allowed more than 116,000 people to leave since the Taliban swept back into power two weeks ago.
In announcing the completion of the evacuation and war effort. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29 p.m. EDT, or one minute before midnight in Kabul.
Earlier Monday, Islamic State militants fired a volley of rockets at Kabul’s rapidly emptying international airport without hurting anyone. All day, U.S. military cargo jets came and went despite the rocket attack.
The Taliban had earlier released a video shot from the airport’s grounds, saying the Americans had removed or destroyed most of their equipment and that troop numbers were far lower. “It looks like today will be the last day,” one of the unidentified fighters said.
With the departure of the last of its troops, the U.S. ends its 20-year war with the Taliban back in power. Many Afghans remain fearful of them or further instability, and there have been sporadic reports of killings and other abuses in areas under Taliban control despite pledges to restore peace and security.
In the last 24 hours, the American military evacuated about 1,200 people on 26 C-17 flights, while two coalition flights flew out 50 others, the White House said.
The two-week airlift has brought scenes of desperation and horror. In the early days, people desperate to flee Taliban rule flooded onto the tarmac and some fell to their deaths after clinging to a departing aircraft. On Thursday, an Islamic State suicide attack at an airport gate killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.
The extremist group is far more radical than the Taliban, who captured most of Afghanistan in a matter of days. The two groups have fought each other before, and the Taliban have pledged to not harbor terrorist groups.
The Taliban tightened their security cordon around the airport after the attack, clearing away massive crowds of Afghans who were desperate to flee the country in the waning days of the U.S.-led airlift. Taliban fighters are now stationed along a fence near the main runway.
A crowd quickly gathered Monday around the remains of a four-door sedan used in the rocket attack. The car had what appeared to be six homemade rocket tubes mounted in place of its back seats.
“I was inside the house with my children and other family members. Suddenly there were some blasts,” said Jaiuddin Khan, who lives nearby. “We jumped into the house compound and lay on the ground.”