Instead, it was from a night vision camera inside the darkened interior of the plane that a fuzzy photo — bound to go down in history — was taken of Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, boarding the C-17.
“In awe of our Sky Dragon Soldiers,” the Pentagon, which released the photo, ostensibly to supplant more disparaging pictures of the withdrawal, said in a statement, adding, “This was an incredibly tough, pressurized mission filled with multiple complexities, with active threats the entire time. Our troops displayed grit, discipline and empathy.”
Afghanistan crisis live updates
Thus ended Washington’s longest war, a 20-year military expedition variously described as humbling and humiliating, after it overextended the objective of avenging the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US mainland that killed nearly 3000 Americans. “It was not a cheap mission. The cost was 2,461 US service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, US CENTCOM commander, said, summing up the war.
Although scores of Americans and thousands of their Afghan allies remain stranded in the country, President Biden said it was the “unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned” by the August 31 deadline.
“Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead,” Biden, who is expected to speak to Americans at greater length on the subject in a television address on Tuesday, said in a statement, holding out prospect for further evacuation.
The President’s top aides echoed similar hopes even as they announced that Washington has ended US diplomatic presence in Kabul and the US mission would now operate out of Doha, Qatar. “A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun — one in which we’ll lead with diplomacy. The military mission has ended, new diplomatic mission has begun,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, in a modicum of recognition of the Taliban, putting the best spin on what even supporters of the Biden dispensation conceded was a fiasco.
But even as the US State Department called on Taliban to meet “commitments on freedom of travel, respecting basic rights of the people, fighting terrorism, not carrying out reprisal violence against those who stayed,” first reports of revenge killings and crackdown on entertainment have emerged from Afghanistan.
Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi was dragged from his home and killed by the Taliban in a province north of Kabul on Friday, CNN reported, quoting a local journalist, even as the new dispensation in Kabul doubled down in describing music as unIslamic. A Taliban spokesman said they would “persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them.”
Such claims of moderation was belied by photos circulated on social media — unauthenticated but retweeted by US lawmakers — purporting to show Taliban hanging an Afghan interpreter who worked with Americans from a US helicopter that fell into the hands of the militants.
“This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden’s Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter. Tragic. Unimaginable,” tweeted Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Many US lawmakers were aghast that the administration had pulled the plug on evacuations leaving hundreds of Americans in limbo and at the mercy of Taliban. But asserting that the number of Americans remaining in Afghanistan was in the low hundreds, Centcom commander McKenzie maintained the US was going to get them out.
“I think we’re also going to negotiate very hard and very aggressively to get our other Afghan partners out. Our desire to bring these people out remains as intense as it was before,” he said.
No American or Afghan civilian was on board the last five military planes to leave Kabul — because the Taliban shut them out the airport.
In the US, critics and defenders of the Biden administration sparred bitterly over the debacle, arguments spilling into the entertainment world.
“The shitshow in Afghanistan has lots of multi-administration blame to go around. When your racist draft-dodging hero was calling our own military servicemen and women “losers and suckers” where the f**k were you?” the singer Richard Marx asked a Trump-supporting actor who lit into the Biden administration for the fiasco.
On his part, former President Trump released a statement saying “Never in history has a withdrawal from war been handled so badly or incompetently as the Biden Administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
“In addition to the obvious, ALL EQUIPMENT should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States and that includes every penny of the $85 billion dollars in cost. If it is not handed back, we should either go in w/unequivocal Military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it. Nobody ever thought such stupidity, as this feeble-brained withdrawal, was possible!” he added.
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