WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said on Monday that the United States has completed its efforts to evacuate the remaining civilians and troops from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in American history.
“I am here to announce the completion of our mission in Afghanistan,” Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters in a virtual briefing. “The last C-17 took off at 3:29 PM.”
The departure of the last American plane from Afghanistan capped a bloody and chaotic end to the conflict. In the final weeks of the war, fighting and terrorist attacks amid the rush to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans left 13 dead and hundreds of civilians. The United States is not expected to have a diplomatic or military presence in the country after this point, officials said.
President Joe Biden has faced some of the harshest criticism of his presidency from Republicans and Democrats since the Taliban took control of the country on August 15. But he backed his decision to withdraw all US troops from the country by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, saying it was no longer in the US interest to keep troops on the ground. in Afghanistan.
“The president is upholding his decision to bring our men and women back from Afghanistan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
Biden is expected to comment on ending the war in the coming days, Psaki said.
McKenzie said more than 6,000 Americans have been evacuated, representing the “vast majority of those who wanted to leave right now.” He said the number of Americans remaining was in “the very low hundreds”.
The administration remains committed to getting out all eligible Americans and Afghans who wish to leave the country beyond the August 31 deadline, he said.
“There’s a lot of heartache associated with going out. We didn’t get everyone out that we wanted to get out,” McKenzie said. “But I think if we had really stayed 10 more days we wouldn’t have kicked out everyone we wanted out and there would always have been people who would have been disappointed. It’s a tough situation.”
A White House official said on Monday that since the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, the United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of around 116,700 people. Since the end of July, the United States has relocated around 122,300 people, the official said. About 1,500 Afghans have been evacuated from the country in the past 24 hours and all military personnel are now out of the country, McKenzie said.
The evacuation continued “without interruption” on Monday, the White House said, despite a barrage of rockets fired at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
A State Department note obtained by NBC News on Sunday said the agency had started evacuating the remaining diplomatic workers on two planes carrying US government employees and had secured all staff at the US Embassy. United employed locally, handling the last three buses and evacuating 2,800 employees and their families, according to the cable.
About 250 Americans remained in Afghanistan and sought to leave the country on Sunday, according to a State Department spokesperson, who said aid was being coordinated “around the clock for this group.” The official said these Americans may already be at Kabul airport or “being guided there, and all have information on how to reach us.”
The State Department was also in contact on Sunday with about 280 more people who identified themselves as American but were either undecided about leaving Afghanistan or said they had no intention of leaving. go.
Since the Taliban quickly took power last month, around 5,500 US citizens have been safely evacuated, the official said.