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Pentagon announces last US troops have left Afghanistan

The Pentagon announced Monday that the last US troops had left Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war. “Every US serviceman is outside of Afghanistan, I can say that with absolute certainty,” General Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, told a briefing.

The last U.S. flight from Afghanistan left at 3:29 p.m. EST, McKenzie said. The State Department and Defense Department team leaders were among the last to leave: Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson and Major General Chris Donahue.

President Biden said he would speak to the Americans on Tuesday about the decision not to extend the US mission past the deadline, even though some Americans and Afghans at risk were unable to evacuate.

“For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned,” Biden said in a statement Monday after- midday. “Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and ensure the prospects of civilians leaving for those who wish to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months to come.

The withdrawal came nearly 20 years after the US military entered Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Pentagon announces last US troops have left Afghanistan
In this image provided by the U.S. Army, a paratrooper assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute, Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division provides security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday August 28, 2021.

Staff Sgt. Alexander Burnett / AP

“Your service will never be forgotten,” McKenzie said at the Pentagon briefing. “My heart is broken from the losses three days ago.”

Thursday marked the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in more than a decade, when 13 American servicemen were killed in a suicide bombing at the airport. Dozens of Afghan civilians were also killed. An ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan known as ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack, and the United States launched airstrikes against ISIS-K targets in retaliation.

McKenzie, who served in Afghanistan and whose son also served there, said he felt “in conflict” when asked about his personal thoughts on the withdrawal. But he said he had been “focused” in recent weeks on the mission at hand for evacuate US citizens and Afghans at risk who aided American troops and were desperate to leave the country after the Taliban takeover.

McKenzie admitted that “we didn’t get everyone out we wanted to get out,” estimating that several hundred could not be evacuated. There were no American civilians on the last five jets to leave Afghanistan, and McKenzie said the ability to evacuate the Americans ended about 12 hours before the last military flight.

The United States has relocated more than 122,300 people from Afghanistan since the end of July, including 5,400 American citizens, Army Major General Hank Taylor told reporters at the Pentagon briefing.

McKenzie said the Taliban had been “pragmatic” over the past two weeks as the United States withdrew its troops and evacuated civilians. He said that “there was no discussion about whether to hand over anything or anything at all.”

“They wanted us to go and we wanted to go out,” McKenzie said of the Taliban.

McKenzie said he “will never forget” all the Marines, sailors and soldiers who have died. He said the mission in Afghanistan has changed from a military mission to a diplomatic one.

The White House said Monday that in 24 hours from Sunday morning to Monday, the United States evacuated 1,200 people from Kabul, with 26 military flights and two coalition flights carrying evacuees from Kabul.

Over a 24-hour period the day before, from Saturday morning to Sunday morning, around 2,900 people were evacuated, with 32 military flights and nine coalition planes departing from Kabul airport.

Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.