The longest war in U.S. history has come to an end with the departure of the last American military flight out of Afghanistan almost 20 years after troops first arrived in the country.
American planes took off from the Kabul airport shortly before midnight local time, the top U.S. general in the Middle East told reporters.
The last C-17 left the airport at 3:29 p.m. ET and cleared Afghanistan’s airspace, ending the United States’s 20-year conflict in the country, U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the mission to evacuate American citizens, third country nationals and vulnerable Afghans,” McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Every single U.S. service member is now out of Afghanistan,” he later added.
McKenzie could not say how many people were aboard the aircraft or where it was headed, as it is still in flight, but he confirmed that 82nd Airborne Division head Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue and Amb. Ross Wilson were on board and “were in fact the last people to stand on the ground, step on the airplane.”
The flight also carried the last remaining U.S. troops and the core diplomatic staff of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
But there are still several hundred Americans in Afghanistan who were unable to reach the airport, along with thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military during the war effort.
McKenzie said no American civilians were on the last five flights to leave.
“We maintained the ability to bring them in up until immediately before departure but we were not able to bring any Americans out. That activity ended probably about 12 hours before our exit. . . None of them made it to the airport.”
McKenzie also said the United States will continue the diplomatic evacuation mission to recover those Americans and vulnerable Afghans.
“While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans, who want to leave, continues,” he said.
“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001. It’s a mission that brought Osama bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his al Qaeda coconspirators,” McKenzie added.
“And it was not a cheap mission. The cost was 2,461 U.S. service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured. Sadly, that includes 13 service members who were killed last week by an ISIS-K suicide bomber. We honor their sacrifice today as we remember their heroic accomplishments.”
Updated at 5:17 p.m.