WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Monday the U.S. had completed efforts to evacuate its remaining civilians and troops from Afghanistan, effectively ending the longest war in American history.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our mission in Afghanistan,” Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters in a virtual briefing. “The last C-17 took off at 3:29 pm.”
The departure of the last U.S. plane from Afghanistan capped a bloody and chaotic end to the conflict. In the war’s final weeks, fighting and terror attacks amid the scramble to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans left 13 service members and hundreds of civilians dead. The U.S. is not expected to have any diplomatic or military presence in the country after this point, officials said.
President Joe Biden has faced some of the harshest criticism of his presidency from both Republicans and Democrats since the Taliban took control of the country on Aug. 15. But he has stood behind his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of the country by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, saying it was no longer in America’s interest to keep troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
“The president stands by his decision to bring our men and women home from Afghanistan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Biden is expected to make remarks on the end of the war in the coming days, Psaki said.
McKenzie said more than 6,000 Americans were evacuated representing the “vast majority of those who wanted to leave at this time.” He said the number of remaining Americans is in the “very low hundreds.”
The administration remains committed to getting all Americans and eligible Afghans who want to leave out of the country beyond the Aug. 31 deadline, he said.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” McKenzie said. “But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days really, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out and there still would have been people who would have been disappointed. It’s a it’s a tough situation.”
A White House official said Monday that since the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, the U.S. had evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 122,300 people, the official said. About 1,500 Afghans were evacuated from the country over the last 24 hours and every service members is now out of the country, McKenzie said.
The evacuation continued “uninterrupted” Monday, the White House said, despite a barrage of rockets that had been fired toward Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
A State Department memo obtained by NBC News Sunday said that the agency had begun evacuating remaining diplomatic workers on two planes carrying U.S. government employees, and secured all locally employed U.S. Embassy staff members, processing the last three buses and evacuating 2,800 employees and family members, according to the cable.
On Sunday, about 250 Americans remained in Afghanistan and were seeking to leave the country, according to a State Department spokesperson, who said that assistance was being coordinated “around the clock for this group.” The official said that those Americans might already be at the airport in Kabul or “in the process of being guided there, and all have information on how to reach us.”
The State Department was also in touch Sunday with about 280 additional people who identified themselves as Americans but were either undecided about leaving Afghanistan or said that they did not intend to leave.
Since the Taliban rapidly seized power last month, around 5,500 American citizens had been safely evacuated, the official said.
Rebecca Shabad is a congressional reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.