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image caption Taliban fighters were quick to make use of discarded US military equipment as they entered Kabul airport early on Tuesday
The last US military flight has left Kabul, marking the end of the country’s presence in Afghanistan.
America’s top military commander in the region, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, said the last C17 aircraft left Kabul with the US ambassador on board soon after midnight local time on Tuesday.
He added that the diplomatic mission to assist those who weren’t able to leave before the deadline would continue.
Celebratory gunfire by the Taliban was heard after the last plane departed.
The departure of that last aircraft signifies the end of America’s longest war, and a massive evacuation effort that began on 14 August soon after the Taliban took over the country.
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Gen McKenzie said that in total, US and coalition aircraft evacuated more than 123,000 civilians – an average of more than 7,500 civilians per day during that time.
Speaking after the announcement, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke in Washington, calling the evacuation a “massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking” and one of the most challenging the US has ever carried out.
“A new chapter has begun,” he said. “The military mission is over. A new diplomatic mission has begun.”
But he said that the Taliban needed to earn its legitimacy and would be judged on the extent to which it fulfilled its commitments and obligations to allow civilians free travel to and from the country, protected the rights of all Afghans including women, and prevented terror groups from gaining a foothold in the country.
He added that while the US had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul, transferring operations to Doha, it would continue its “relentless efforts” to help Americans, and Afghans with US passports, to leave Afghanistan if they want to.
Mr Blinken was the first member of the Biden cabinet to talk about the withdrawal.
President Joe Biden issued a short statement thanking all those involved in the evacuation operation over the last 17 days and saying he would address the nation later on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the US has yet to explain reports that a US drone strike on a suspected suicide bomber in Afghanistan killed a number of civilians, including six children and a man who worked as a translator for US forces.
Relatives said the strike, on a car near Kabul airport, was based on wrong information. The Pentagon said it was assessing and investigating the reports.
Uncertainty lies ahead for millions of Afghans
Even after 40 years of war, I don’t think Afghans have lived through a transition that is so uncertain, that is so shrouded in darkness and that is so overcast in fear. There is great uncertainty about what lies ahead.
There is uncertainty and fear for the thousands of Afghans who have left the country in the last few days who will wonder whether they will see their homeland again.
For the 38 million Afghans that remain in the country, there is significant uncertainty over what kind of rule the Taliban will impose. Will they bring back the harsh rules and punishments that characterised their last spell in charge of the country.
Many Afghans look at Taliban rule in rural areas and fear that they have not changed, but that they’ve somehow got even worse.
This is a deeply traditional society. Women and girls gained a small amount of freedom as the Western coalition forces encouraged education. The greatest losers are the girls who came of age in the past 20 years who believe now that they cannot live the life they were promised,
Tomorrow will start the next chapter of this long war. Americas longest war is over, but the battle for Afghans certainly isn’t.