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The last U.S. forces left Afghanistan late last night, ending a 20-year occupation that began shortly after Sept. 11, cost over $2 trillion, took more than 170,000 lives and ultimately failed to defeat the Taliban, the Islamist militants who allowed Al Qaeda to operate there.

Five American C-17 cargo jets departed the airport in Kabul just before midnight, completing a hasty evacuation that left behind tens of thousands of Afghans, including former members of the security forces and many who held valid visas to enter the U.S. Dozens of members of Congress have become deeply involved in helping to arrange evacuations.

“A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun,” Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said. “It’s one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over.”

On the ground: Jubilant Taliban fighters and their supporters reveled in victory as the news became clear. Celebratory gunfire broke out across Kabul in the predawn hours early this morning, the arcs of tracer rounds lighting up the night sky. See scenes from Afghanistan.

Analysis: For the fifth time since the Soviet invasion in 1979, one order has collapsed and another has risen, writes our reporter. What has followed each of those times has been a descent into vengeance, score-settling and, eventually, another cycle of disorder and war.




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