The final U.S. evacuation flights departed from Kabul International Airport on Monday, ending the longest U.S. war weeks ahead of the 20th anniversary — but with hundreds of U.S. citizens and thousands more Afghan allies left behind.
Gene. Frank McKenzie Jr., the head of US Central Command, told reporters that the last US C-17 took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 3:29 PM ET (11:59 PM Kabul time).
🎬📺 Free Movies and Free TV Shows! 🎭🎬
“The last manned aircraft is now clearing the airspace over Afghanistan,” McKenzie said.
In a statement, President Biden — who initially set a September 11 deadline for all U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, then pushed it to August 31 — praised U.S. military personnel for their “unparalleled courage, professionalism and determination.” . The White House said Biden would address the nation at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday about why he didn’t extend the deadline despite hundreds of American citizens still stranded.
“For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and all our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned,” Biden said in the statement. “Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and safeguard the prospects of civilian departure for those looking to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months to come.”
The president also stressed that the Taliban have made “commitments to safe passage and that the world will hold them to their obligations. It will include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport, enabling departures for those who want to leave and humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan to continue.
The Associated Press reported that a celebratory gunfire broke out in Afghanistan’s capital early Tuesday as the Taliban marked the departure of US troops.
“The last five planes have left, it’s over!” said one fighter, Hemad Sherzad. “I cannot express my happiness in words. … Our 20 years of sacrifice has worked.”
“American soldiers left Kabul airport and our nation gained its full independence,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
In total, McKenzie said, more than 79,000 civilians have flown out of Kabul airport on US military aircraft since Aug. 14 — including 6,000 Americans and 73,500 Afghans and third-country nationals. The number of civilians evacuated grew to more than 123,000, taking into account those who were flown away by members of the US-led coalition.
“We didn’t get out everyone we wanted out,” McKenzie acknowledged, saying diplomatic steps should now be taken to get out the estimated “low hundreds” of Americans left on the ground.
The commander emphasized that while “every US soldier” is now out of the country, “not all Americans wanted to leave.”
“There are Americans for various reasons who want to stay for a while,” McKenzie said, adding that efforts to rescue Americans from Taliban-controlled territory ended “about 12 hours” before the last flight departed.
In an interview Sunday with ABC News’ “This Week,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that there were “about 300 American citizens left who have indicated to us that they want to leave.
“We are working very actively to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and leave Afghanistan,” Blinken said at the time.
On the same day, a State Department spokesperson told NBC News that the number of Americans who wanted to leave the country was about 250, with another 280 who identified as American but said they were undecided about leaving or not planning to. were doing that.
Monday’s announcement concluded a chaotic withdrawal process further marred by an ISIS suicide bombing that killed at least 182 people — including 13 US service members – Thursday.
Since the Taliban invaded Kabul on August 15, Karzai Airport has been overrun by desperate Americans, Afghans and citizens of allied countries hoping to score valuable seats on flights. The airport was surrounded by several Taliban checkpoints, manned by fighters who reportedly attacked and beat anyone who tried to pass.
Despite those reports, the Biden administration defended its collaboration with the Islamist fundamentalist group that ousted the US from power in 2001, describing it as a necessary evil.
On Monday, McKenzie described an August 15 meeting with the Taliban leadership in Qatar when Kabul fell, saying: “I delivered a message on behalf of the president that our mission in Kabul was now the evacuation of Americans and our partners. would not tolerate interference and that we would vigorously defend our troops and the evacuees if necessary.”
“They promised not to interfere with our withdrawal,” added McKenzie, who described the Taliban as “significantly helpful” in the withdrawal.
Chaos was rife for terrorist exploitation and on August 26, that’s exactly what happened. A member of the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, known as ISIS-K, blew itself up outside the airport’s Abbey Gate – where U.S. Marines searched potential passengers for weapons and checked their travel documents.
The bomber’s victims were 11 Marines, a Navy Chief Constable and an Army soldier. It was the first fatality in Afghanistan since February 2020. The attack was the deadliest day for US troops since 31 deaths in August 2011 when a Chinook helicopter was shot down by Taliban forces.
While US forces remained largely behind the walls of the airport, McKenzie said US forces conducted three helicopter rescues that took in at least 185 US civilians and 21 German nationals.
The commander also credited US special ops forces with getting at least 1,064 US citizens, 2,017 Afghan allies and 127 third-country nationals on flights from Afghanistan through “phone calls, vectors and escort.”
Earlier Monday, ISIS militants had fired a volley of rockets into the rapidly deflating airport without injuring anyone. Throughout the day, US military cargo planes came and went despite the missile attack.
“I do believe that the Taliban will have their hands full with ISIS-K,” McKenzie predicted. “And they let a lot of those people out of jail. And now they will be able to reap what they have sown.”
Whatever problems the Taliban have with ISIS-K, their weapons arsenal has received an unexpected boost in recent weeks after they seized billions of dollars in US-made, US-taxpayer-purchased weapons and equipment from fleeing Afghan security forces.
With Post wires