After nearly 20 years, the last U.S. troops have left Afghanistan, concluding the United States’ longest war and the largest non-combatant evacuation mission in U.S. military history.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, announced the completion of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan at the Pentagon on Monday afternoon.
“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001,” McKenzie said. “It’s a mission that brought Osama bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his al-Qaida co-conspirators.”
“It was not a cheap mission,” he continued. “The cost was at 2,461 U.S. Service members and civilians, and more than 20,000 injured. Sadly, that includes 13 U.S. service members who were killed last week by an ISIS-K suicide bomber.”
Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the terrorist group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, has posed a significant threat to U.S. troops in the final days of the military’s withdrawal, as U.S. and coalition forces raced to evacuate as many people as possible from the country. In total, McKenzie said 123,000 civilians were evacuated in the massive airlift operation, including over 6,000 American citizens.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that "a small number of Americans — under 200, and likely closer to 100" remain in Afghanistan and want to leave. Blinken promised that the U.S. would continue to attempt to get those Americans out of the country.
"If an American in Afghanistan tells us that they want to stay for now, and then in a week or a month or a year, they reach out and say I've changed my mind, we will help them leave," the secretary said.
Blinken also announced that the U.S. diplomatic effort in Afghanistan would now be managed out of Doha, Qatar.
In a statement released early Monday evening, President Biden gave thanks for the sacrifices of American service members over the course of the conflict, including the 13 troops who were recently killed in a terror attack at the Kabul airport.
"I want to thank our commanders and the men and women serving under them for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled – in the early morning hours of August 31st, Kabul time – with no further loss of American lives," the president said.
"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. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve. Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended."
Biden is set to address the end of the conflict in a speech on Tuesday.
“While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues,” McKenzie said, noting that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would provide more information on that diplomatic effort later in the afternoon.
Cover thumbnail photo: Yahoo News via Reuters TV
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