Ultimately, it was the Taliban, with their bursts of gunfire, that announced that the Americans were gone – uncomfortably so fitting, given that they have been directing the fire in recent weeks.
For days in Washington, the US administration refused to say when its withdrawal from Afghanistan would be complete.
For obvious security reasons, they did not confirm precisely what “August 31” meant. Was it like that day started? Was it midnight at the end of this day? American time or Afghan time?
It turned out to be just before midnight when August 30 became August 31.
In the dark, the last American plane stopped and pulled away from the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
It ended two weeks of utter chaos, but also a remarkable airlift like no other in history.
During the day, the planes had taken off one after the other, veering sharply to avoid rocket fire from below.
This is what the end of the chaotic exit looked like; the end of a 20-year-old war. A country and a people left in the future, unknown.
At the Pentagon in Washington, an announcement finally came to confirm what the Taliban images had already shown us.
“I am here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission,” said Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command.
“The last C-17 took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30, this afternoon, at 3:29 p.m. EDT, and the last manned plane is now clearing the airspace over the Afghanistan. “
About an hour later, from the State Department, America’s top diplomat walked out of a brutal fortnight for American leadership, looking forward, not back.
“Now the US military fighting is over and our troops have left Afghanistan. A new chapter in America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun. This is a chapter we will lead in with our diplomacy. military mission has ended A new diplomatic mission has started, said Antony Blinken.
“The main point I want to make here today is that America’s work in Afghanistan continues. We have a plan for the future. We are putting it into action,” he continued, concluding, “ we will honor all those brave men and women in the United States and many other countries who have risked or sacrificed their lives in the course of this long mission. “
And with that, America’s longest war was over. They chose to walk away and they ended up running, taking their allies with them. A deadline set by the American president had been met, but at what cost?
The United States has strained key relations with close allies.
In the UK, the value of the so-called “special relationship” has become a central debate.
In Brussels, NATO members were confirmed, if they did not already know, that without America, their alliance is worthless.
In Moscow and Beijing, they received the same message. Masters inside the Kremlin and in Zhongnanhai will see this episode as further proof that the US president owes a weary, insular American public in a way that Putin and Xi are not. The advantages, for them, are there to be seized.
Then there is terrorism. The return over the weekend of the bodies of 13 soldiers killed by ISIS terrorists last week in Kabul was the tragic image that undermined the justification for the president’s withdrawal.
Afghanistan is still a hotbed for terrorists. America is leaving a broken country, not mended.
“There are probably at least 2,000 die-hard ISIS fighters in Afghanistan now, and of course a lot of them are from the prisons that were opened a few days ago,” General McKenzie admitted in the statement. same briefing where he said the mission was over. .
“So that number is on the rise and it is probably as high as it has ever been for quite some time and that is going to be a challenge for the Taliban, I believe, in the days to come,” added the general.
From the White House, the president issued only a statement defending the withdrawal and thanking his troops. He will address the nation later today.
For now, fundamental unanswered questions were left to his spokesperson.
“Is the United States more or less secure today than we were before the Taliban took power,” asked Jen Psaki.
“Well, again, we are not going to do anything that will allow terrorists to grow or prosper in Afghanistan,” she said.
On several occasions, the administration has ignored or clearly denied that al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain close and that the hard-line Haqqani Network, whose numbers include some of America’s most wanted, now occupy key positions in the Taliban.
In New York, a UN Security Council meeting was an attempt to find optimism and common ground between the Americans, Russia and China.
They hope the Taliban can prove that this is a different entity than it once was. The evidence is not very encouraging, but the UN will hold the mullahs at their word to allow the safe and continuous passage of Afghans and foreigners out of the country.
As night fell in Washington, an image was released that will define a military enterprise that has proved politically impossible and so tragically bloody.
Through the green of a night vision lens, it showed the last American soldier to leave the battlefield – Major General Chris Donahue, commander of 82nd Airbourne Division. Afghanistan behind him.