The US has formally begun withdrawing its remaining troops from Afghanistan as it brings to an end America’s longest war.
Joe Biden had said he wanted the remaining 3,500 US service personnel to begin pulling out of the country on 1 May, with 11 September – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that precipitated the invasion of Afghanistan – the deadline for all troops leaving.
Before his election defeat, Donald Trump had set 1 May as the date by which all US military personnel would have left.
On the eve of the beginning of the withdrawal Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the Associated Press: “We are telling the departing Americans … you fought a meaningless war and paid a cost for that and we also offered huge sacrifices for our liberation.”
He added: “If you … open a new chapter of helping Afghans in reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country, the Afghans will appreciate that.”
Announcing the withdrawal on 14 April, Mr Biden said it was time to put an end to what he called a “forever war”.
He said he believed a US presence in Afghanistan should “be focused on the reason why we went in the first place – to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again”.
“We did that. We accomplished that objective,” he said from the Treaty Room at the White House, where former president George W Bush announced the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom on 7 October, 2001.
“I said, among with others, we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, if need be,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did, and we got him.”
But that was a decade ago, Mr Biden said, “and we’ve stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since.”
This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the killing of Bin Laden by US special forces after he was tracked down to a house in the Pakistan city of Abbottabad.
At the height of the Afghanistan conflict there were about 100,000 US troops in the country. Some 2,442 lost their lives, as did tens of thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and Afghan government forces. America’s Nato allies lost 1,144 troops, with Britain suffering 454 military and civilian deaths.
Last year was the first in which no US or Nato troops were killed.
The Costs of War project estimates that 47,245 Afghan civilians have been killed during the conflict and that millions more have been displaced.
The past year has seen an increase in violence, despite ongoing peace talks. The Taliban is now thought to control more than half of the country.
In a statement on Saturday, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the start of the complete withdrawal “opened the way for (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) mujahideen to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces”.
However, he said Taliban fighters would wait for a decision from the leadership before launching any attacks and that decision will be based on “the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country”.
AP contributed to this report