August 30, 2021

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Monday said it had completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan following a chaotic airlift nearly 20 years after it had invaded the country in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

More than 122,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban – which harbored the al Qaeda militant group blamed for the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington – regained control of the country.

The chief U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was on the last C-17 flight out, Marine General Frank McKenzie, the head of the U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news briefing.

The emergency air evacuation came to an end before a Tuesday deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden, who inherited a troop withdrawal deal made with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump and decided earlier this year to complete the pullout.

The United States and its Western allies scrambled to save citizens of their own countries as well as translators, local embassy staff, civil rights activists, journalists and other Afghans vulnerable to reprisals.

The evacuations became even more perilous when a suicide bomb attack claimed by Islamic State – enemy of both the West and the Taliban – killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans waiting by the airport gates on Thursday.

Biden, who faced intense criticism at home and abroad over his decisions, promised after the bloody Kabul airport attack to hunt down the people responsible.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Howard Goller)