US troops along are seen loading right into a C-130 Hercules cargo plane at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Khost province, Afghanistan.
Department of Defense photo
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration acknowledged on Thursday the two-year anniversary of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban, a somber milestone following a 20-year U.S.-led war within the country.
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan following a shocking string of battlefield reversals because the U.S., NATO and partner nations began a months-long precipitous withdrawal.
“We bow our heads today in memory of the two,461 U.S. service members who never made it home, including the 13 courageous troops taken from us within the attack at Abbey Gate in the ultimate hours of the war,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in an announcement referencing the ultimate U.S. servicemembers killed during a humanitarian evacuation mission near the gates of Kabul’s airport.
“We also remember the lots of of service members from allied and partner countries who lost their lives during this 20-year war. And we honor the greater than 20,000 Americans who were injured waging war in Afghanistan, including many who still bear wounds that aren’t visible,” Austin wrote, without mentioning the Taliban’s return to power.
The inception of America’s war in Afghanistan, dubbed “Operation Enduring Freedom,” by then-President George W. Bush, began within the weeks following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On the time, the Taliban provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda, the group that planned and carried out the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Recent York City and the Pentagon. The conflict, which spanned over 4 administrations, claimed the lives of nearly 2,500 U.S. service members and greater than 100,000 Afghan troops, police personnel and civilians.
In April 2021, Biden ordered the total withdrawal of roughly 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 of that 12 months. He later gave an updated timeline saying the U.S. military mission would end by Aug. 31, 2021.
In the ultimate weeks of a planned exodus of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban seized provincial capitals before capturing the prized Bagram Air Base, a sprawling and once-stalwart U.S. military installation that was transferred to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force only two months prior.
In 2012, at its peak, Bagram saw greater than 100,000 U.S. troops go through, making it the most important U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.
Taliban forces stand guard in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2, 2021.
Stringer | Reuters
Because the Taliban moved closer to the capital, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and Western nations rushed to evacuate embassies amid a deteriorating security situation. Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which had long received assistance by Western coalition forces, the Taliban marched into the presidential palace on Aug. 15.
Meanwhile, hundreds of individuals swarmed the gates and tarmac on the airport in Kabul in a desperate try to escape life under the Taliban.
For 2 weeks, U.S. troops carried out the most important airlift in American military history, evacuating greater than 120,000 U.S. residents, residents of allied nations and Afghan allies from Taliban rule. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suspended America’s diplomatic presence in Kabul and transferred the remaining operations to Doha, Qatar.
Evacuees crowd the inside of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan August 15, 2021.
Courtesy of Defense One | Handout via Reuters
A day after Afghanistan collapsed to the Taliban, Biden defended his decision to go away the country saying, “there was never a superb time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
Read more: ‘Intelligence failure of the best order’ — How Afghanistan fell to the Taliban so quickly
“I remain eternally grateful to the military members, diplomats, intelligence professionals and development specialists who not only worked together to advance the USA’ Afghan mission for 20 years — but who also conducted our withdrawal with the identical resolve and bravado that defined U.S. service in Afghanistan,” Biden wrote in an announcement.
“We’ve got demonstrated that we don’t need a everlasting troop presence on the bottom in harm’s option to take motion against terrorists and people who want to do us harm,” he added.