After almost 20 years, America has ended its longest war. But its duties to Afghans endure

The histories are already being written, but for now, two moments encapsulate the closing moments of America’s longest war. One was the eerie, lonely night-vision image of the last US soldier boarding the military’s final flight from Afghanistan. The other came a day earlier, when a retaliatory strike targeting Islamic State reportedly claimed the lives of 10 civilians, including at least six children. Together, they convey the sense of hopelessness and waste, after almost 20 years and $2tn, the carelessness which too often characterised both the US presence and its withdrawal, and the costs to Afghans.

Though Donald Trump set the clock for departure ticking, Joe Biden’s timing owed more to symbolism than pragmatism. The president promised that the US military would leave before 11 September – the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida terrorist attacks that led the US to topple the Taliban.

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