The last evacuation plane has left Afghanistan and a number of Americans who had requested — and were awaiting — evacuation were left behind, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed at a press conference announcing the United States’ military official departure from Afghanistan.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans,” McKenzie said.
“Every single U.S. servicemember is out of Afghanistan,” McKenzie announced, noting that it was August 31st in Kabul, where the final flights left from over the weekend and during the day on Monday. The final evacuation flight left Monday afternoon, Washington, D.C., time, at 3:29 ET.
The Pentagon also declared 3:29 ET on Monday the official moment the war in Afghanistan ended.
Over the weekend, the Biden administration admitted that “roughly” 300 Americans who wanted to leave were still in Afghanistan, though that number has come under some scrutiny from outside officials. Because the Biden administration was reticent to announce how many Americans were in Afghanistan when the Taliban took Kabul on August 14th, it is not clear how many Americans remained.
Last week, the State Department estimated around 1,500 Americans were still in Afghanistan waiting to be evacuated.
The administration has also repeatedly said that there are Americans who did not make contact with the State Department to request extraction. Last week, the State Department said they sent emails and voice mails, but it is not clear that they were being received.
“We did not get out everybody we had wanted to get out,” McKenzie admitted Monday, adding that diplomatic measures will likely be needed to get out the “very low hundreds” of Americans left behind.
“I think the terror threat is going to be very high and I don’t want to minimize that,” he said adding that the U.S. is working “to ensure that our citizens are protected and that they have the opportunity to leave.”
McKenzie also noted that the original deadline for departure — September 11th — might have posed the same risk.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure, we did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” McKenzie told reporters. “But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days, literally 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 with that.”
Part of the problem, though, appeared to be the Taliban’s decision to block access to the airport on Saturday and several stories quickly emerged of American passport holders, including children, being turned back, beaten, and even fired upon. The head of Task Force Pineapple, which, in recent days, rescued more than 500 people, told Fox & Friends on Monday that a group of 50 Americans were turned away and threatened by Taliban fighters just outside Hamid Karzai International Airport.
In a bizarre tableau, Gen. McKenzie also thanked the Taliban and noted that the U.S.’s former enemies were now in control of Afghanistan.
“I do know this just speaking clearly practically as a professional, [the Taliban] helped us secure the airfield, not perfectly, but they gave it a very good effort, and it was actually significantly helpful to us, particularly here at the end,” McKenzie said, referring to Afghanistan as “our generous host nation.”
The Taliban, he claimed, “have been very pragmatic and very business-like as we have approached this withdrawal.”
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