WASHINGTON — The United States completed efforts to evacuate all troops and most of its civilians from Afghanistan on Tuesday, ending America’s longest war after 20 years, the Defense Department said Monday.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our mission in Afghanistan,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said in a virtual meeting with reporters. The last C-17 took off at 3:29 pm.”
The final U.S. aircraft took off from the Kabul airport at 3:29 PM, putting an end to the bloody and chaotic war and effort to get Americans out of the country. The withdrawal effort of Americans and Afghans left 13 American service members and hundreds of Afghan civilians dead.
President Joe Biden released a statement late Monday, saying he will speak to the nation on Tuesday but offered a small glimpse into the reasoning not to extend the troops on the ground past August 31.
“For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned,” he said.
Biden has faced some of his harshest criticism since taking office over the Taliban’s control of the country from both Republicans and Democrats. The President has repeatedly stood behind his decision to pull all U.S. troops out by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying it was no longer in America’s interest to keep fighting a war that the Afghan people did not want to fight for themselves.
Biden was meeting with advisers in the Oval Office when an aide passed a note alerting national security adviser Jake Sullivan that the last military plane had safely left Kabul, and Sullivan relayed the news to Biden, a White House official said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by reporters if Biden still stands by his decision to end the war despite the 13 U.S. troops who lost their lives and she said that he does.
“The president stands by his decision to bring our men and women home from Afghanistan,” she said. “We would have sent thousands of troops in harm’s way to fight a war that Afghans weren’t willing to fight in to preserve their government.”
In his statement Monday, Biden thanked the service members for their service in assisting with the evacuation efforts.
“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States,” Biden said. “They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve. Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended.”
McKenzie said more than 6,000 Americans were evacuated but noted they did not get everyone out, saying around 250 Americans still remained on the ground after the last plane took off.
“The last five flights out [of Afghanistan] did not have Americans on them,” he said.
A White House official said Monday that since the Taliban took control of Kabul, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuations of about 116,700 people. The Biden administration remains committed to getting all Americans and eligible Afghans who want to leave out of the country even after the August 31 deadline, Secretary of State Blinken said late Monday.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” said McKenzie, who served in Afghanistan along with his son. “But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days, really, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out, and there still would have been people who would have been disappointed. It’s a tough situation.”