After nearly two decades of war, $2 trillion in spending, and nearly 2,000 US troops killed in action, the last US military planes have left Afghanistan, Commander of US Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie announced Monday at the Pentagon.
As noted by several media outlets, the US departure marks the end of a fraught, chaotic and bloody exit from the United States’ longest war.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans,” McKenzie said, according to CNN. “The last C-17 lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30th, this afternoon, at 3:29 p.m. East Coast time, and the last manned aircraft is now clearing the airspace above Afghanistan.”
While no US diplomats remain in the country, a senior State Department official said “that doesn’t mean that we are suspending any commitments to American citizens in Afghanistan, to at-risk Afghans, to the Afghan people.”
The US invaded Afghanistan to avenge the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and strike at the Taliban, which hosted Osama bin Laden. The al Qaeda leader was killed in may, 2011 after former President Barack Obama ordered an assault on his compound in Pakistan.
Even as Biden pulls the US from the country, Afghanistan looks likely to shadow him politically and engage him militarily — on Monday, White House officials said the President is continuing the hunt for terrorists in the country, telling his military commanders to “stop at nothing” to avenge the deaths of 13 US service members at Kabul airport last week.
As of Monday, more than 122,000 people had been airlifted from Hamid Karzai International Airport since July, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, including 5,400 Americans, marking the biggest US evacuation in history.
A senior State Department official said the department believes there are fewer than 250 American citizens currently in Afghanistan who may wish to leave, as US officials stressed a Taliban commitment to let Afghans leave the country after the US and allies’ withdrawal. The State Department official put the number of American citizens who have left the country through evacuation flights or other means closer to 6,000.
“We believe there’s still a small number who remain, and we’re trying to determine exactly how many,” the official told reporters Monday. “We are going through manifests of people who have departed, we are calling and texting and WhatsApping and emailing our lists, in an effort to have a more concrete figure regarding how many Americans may remain.”
In the 24 hours leading up to Monday morning, 26 military C-17 aircraft lifted off from Kabul carrying 1,200 evacuees, according to Gen. Hank Taylor, the deputy director of regional operations for the Joint Staff, who spoke alongside Kirby at a Pentagon briefing earlier Monday. In total, 28 flights departed from Kabul airport in that 24-hour window, Taylor said.
In the same 24-hour period, the US conducted a drone strike that killed multiple civilians, including children, the Kabul airport was targeted by rocket fire, and military officials continued to warn of active, specific threats to the evacuation effort.