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US military starts final pullout from Afghanistan amid terror threats

US military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)
US military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

WASHINGTON — On alert for new terror attacks, the United States military has begun its final withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the closing stages of a frantic airlift of Americans, Afghans and others desperate to escape Taliban rule before the evacuation shuts down.

The remains of 13 American troops killed in an airport attack on Thursday by members of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate, known as ISIS-K, are on their way to the US, the Pentagon says today.

Their voyage marks a painful moment in a nearly 20-year American war that cost more than 2,400 US military lives, and is ending with the return to power of a Taliban movement that was ousted when US forces invaded in 2001.

The Pentagon released the names of the 13 killed — 11 Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier.

Twelve of them were in the 20s. Some were born in 2001, the year America’s longest war began. The oldest was 31.

They were the first US service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020, the month the Trump administration struck an agreement with the Taliban, in which the militant group halted attacks on Americans in exchange for a US agreement to remove all troops and contractors by May 2021.

US President Joe Biden announced in April that the 2,500 to 3,000 troops who remained would be out by September, ending what he has called America’s forever war.

With Biden’s approval, the Pentagon earlier this month sent thousands of additional troops to the Kabul airport to provide security and to facilitate the US State Department’s chaotic effort to evacuate thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans who had helped the US during the war.

The evacuation was marred by confusion and chaos as the US government was caught by surprise when the Afghan army collapsed and the Taliban swept to power August 15.

The US military force at the Kabul airport, which peaked at about 5,800, was at or below 4,000 today, according to a US official who discussed details not yet publicly released on condition of anonymity.

The Pentagon has said that, for security reasons, it will not provide a day-by-day description of the final stages of the military’s withdrawal, which includes flying home troops as well as equipment.

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