The United States officially ended its military presence with the final U.S. military flight out of Kabul, concluding 20 years of American involvement in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) head Gen. Frank McKenzie said during a televised address that the last C-17 military plane cleared Afghan airspace after lifting off at around 3:29 p.m. ET Monday. That came hours before President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for shutting down the final airlift.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuation American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans,” he said on Monday afternoon.
There are still Americans who remain in Afghanistan “in the low hundreds,” said McKenzie in a response to a reporter’s question, adding that the military and State Department will work to evacuate those individuals. A Pentagon spokesman earlier on Monday said that around 600 still remain in the country.
“We didn’t get out everyone that we wanted to get out,” the general said, adding that it is a “tough situation.”
McKenzie’s comments, however, appear to contradict a statement made by President Joe Biden when he told ABC News on Aug. 18 that “if there’s American citizens left” in Afghanistan, “we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”
The U.S. pullout from Afghanistan ended with a rushed evacuation that extracted more than 100,000 people since Aug. 14 as the Taliban took over Kabul following a blistering military offensive that lasted only a few days. Last week, ISIS terrorists carried out a bombing at the Kabul airport, killing scores of Afghan civilians and 13 American soldiers.
Biden now faces condemnation at home and abroad, not so much for ending the war as for his handling of a final evacuation that unfolded in chaos and raised doubts about U.S. credibility. Biden has repeatedly defended his administration’s handling of the evacuation, although he and other administration officials provided conflicting details about the situation on the ground in Kabul.
There were also questions raised about the intelligence reports used by the Pentagon and top military leaders regarding the speed at which the Taliban took over the country and the fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and army. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and other generals said they received no intelligence suggesting the country’s government would collapse in just 11 days to the Taliban, designated by some federal agencies as a terrorist group.
Meanwhile, the administration received blowback over the billions of dollars in American weapons, vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment that were seized by the Taliban.
The final U.S. exit included the withdrawal of its diplomats, although the State Department has left open the possibility of resuming some level of diplomacy with the Taliban depending on how they conduct themselves in establishing a government and adhering to international pleas for the protection of human rights.
Previously, the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban over the course of months, setting a withdrawal date for May 1. Biden pushed back the withdrawal date to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
A new threat posed by the Afghan pullout and Taliban takeover is the ISIS terrorist group. When the Taliban took over, its members released numerous ISIS members from prisons across the country.
McKenzie made note of the threat posed by ISIS, saying the Taliban—an enemy of ISIS—will now have to deal with the group.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.