The last U.S. military planes left Kabul’s airport, marking the end of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and the efforts to airlift thousands of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans as the country fell to the Taliban, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie confirmed on Monday evening.
The state of play: The U.S. facilitated the evacuation of over 120,000 people, including 5,000 Americans, but up to 250 Americans and thousands of Afghan allies were still attempting to leave the country.
- The last flight out left at 3:29 p.m. ET, which was 11:59 p.m. on Monday night in Kabul.
- The evacuation of U.S. civilians ended about 12 hours earlier, McKenzie said; some Afghans were evacuated in the closing hours.
What they’re saying: “There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” McKenzie said. He added that not everyone would have gotten out even if the deadline was extended.
- “Every single U.S. service member is now out of Afghanistan,” McKenzie said.
- Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted: “The last American occupier withdrew … at 12 o’clock and our country gained its full independence, praise and gratitude be to God.”
McKenzie said the Kabul airlift was the largest civilian evacuation mission ever executed by the U.S. military. He said the “vast majority” of Americans who hoped to flee were evacuated.
- “We continued the outreach and would have been prepared to bring them on until the very last minute,” but none of them made it to the airport and were able to be accommodated.
President Biden in a statement announced that he would address the nation Tuesday afternoon, saying that it was the “unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned.”
- “Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead,” he continued.
Between the lines: The Pentagon had previously suggested that the evacuation mission would continue right up to the deadline, but wouldn’t speak to the exact timing for security reasons.
- The airport had come under attack in the final days of the operation, potentially spurring the Pentagon to complete its withdrawal ahead of Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline.
- The U.S. had carried out two drone strikes targeting ISIS-K threats since last week’s suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members and over 170 Afghan civilians.
- The Pentagon said earlier Monday that it was investigating reports that a U.S. drone strike targeting a vehicle believed to pose an “imminent ISIS-K threat” to Kabul’s airport killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children.
What’s next: McKenzie said the efforts to evacuate the remaining Americans had now moved to the “diplomatic realm.”
- The U.S., along with 97 other countries, announced Sunday that they had reached an agreement with the Taliban to allow them to continue to get their citizens and Afghan allies out of the country after Aug. 31.
- McKenzie said the Taliban had been “pragmatic and businesslike” in the final hours of the U.S. operation. The militant group will now take control of the airport.
The U.S. is also moving diplomatic operations from Kabul to Doha, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said later Monday. “The military mission is over,” he said. “A new diplomatic mission has begun.”
- Regarding the Taliban, Blinken added: “Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned.”
- Blinken also said the U.S. remains committed to assisting the remaining Americans and Afghan allies who want to depart Afghanistan.
Prior to Monday’s Pentagon announcement, a notice went out to pilots that flights transiting through Kabul would be traveling in “uncontrolled airspace.”
- Celebratory gunfire rang out in Kabul after the U.S. withdrawal ended.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional details throughout.