No other military in the world could accomplish what the US, its allies and partners did in such a short span of time in Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said as America completed the withdrawal of its forces from Kabul, ending 20 years of war that culminated in the Taliban's return to power.
Chaos enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan's government collapsed and the Taliban seized control on August 15. The Taliban insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.
Forced into a hasty exit, Washington and its NATO allies carried out a massive but chaotic airlift over the past two weeks. The US completed its military evacuation of civilians and the removal of all its forces from Afghanistan on Monday.
“No other military in the world could accomplish what we and our allies and partners did in such a short span of time. That is a testament not only to our forces’ capabilities and courage but also to our relationships and the capabilities of our allies and partners,” Austin said in a statement at the conclusion of the American mission in Afghanistan.
“Over the course of more than four decades in service, I have never ceased to be amazed at what an American service member can do. I remain in awe. And I am thankful for the skill and professionalism with which they do it,” he said.
The US has now completed the military evacuation of civilians and the removal of all US forces from Afghanistan, he said.
“I am deeply saddened that, in the course of this historic evacuation mission, we lost 13 of our own, along with so many others who were killed and wounded days ago by cruel terrorists,” Austin said.
Mourning alongside the families of those who were lost, he said that they will never forget their loved ones’ heroism and sacrifice.
“They gave their lives trying to save the lives of others. And I know that you share my pride in them. I hope that all Americans also share my pride in all the troops and diplomats who raced to help save lives during those critical days of August,” he said.
Austin said American service members secured, defended, and ran a major international airport, besides learning how to help consular officers screen and verify visa applicants.
They provided medical care, food and water, and compassion to people in need. They flew tens of thousands of people to safety, virtually around the clock. They even delivered babies, he said.
Post evacuation mission, Austin said the US will help Afghan friends as they now turn to the task of beginning new lives in new places.
“We will provide these men, women, and children with temporary living spaces, medical care, and sustenance at military facilities at home and abroad.
"We will continue to support the interagency effort led by the Department of Homeland Security to screen them and to process some of them to lead new lives in America. And we will work hard to defend our citizens from terrorist threats emanating from anywhere around the globe,” he said.
The end of this operation also signals the end of America’s longest war, he said, noting that the US lost 2,461 troops in the war in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of others suffered wounds, seen and unseen."The scars of combat don’t heal easily, and often never heal at all,” he added.