WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon says that some Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan were unable to make it to the Kabul airport to board U.S. evacuation flights before the complete evacuation of U.S. forces.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters that the U.S. believes it was able to evacuate the “vast majority” of Americans in the country who wanted to leave, but that it was aware of some who were couldn’t depart.
McKenzie says that in the final American flights out of Afghanistan, “We were not able to bring any Americans out.” The last American civilians were evacuated about 12 hours before U.S. forces left.
McKenzie says the effort to bring out Americans will now fall on diplomatic channels.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden pledged that the U.S. would remain in Afghanistan until it was able to get all of its citizens out of the country. “If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” he told ABC News.
The news comes just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline for shutting down a final airlift, and thus ending the U.S. war, Air Force transport planes carried a remaining contingent of troops from Kabul airport. Thousands of troops had spent a harrowing two weeks protecting a hurried and risky airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans, Americans and others seeking to escape a country once again ruled by Taliban militants.
In announcing the completion of the evacuation and war effort. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29 p.m. Washington time, or one minute before midnight in Kabul.
The airport had become a U.S.-controlled island, a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.
The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama. American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats — and at least two actual attacks — by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on Aug. 26 killed 13 American service members and some 169 Afghans.
The final pullout fulfilled Biden’s pledge to end what he called a “forever war” that began in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. His decision, announced in April, reflected a national weariness of the Afghanistan conflict. Now he 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.
More than 1,100 troops from coalition countries and more than 100,000 Afghan forces and civilians died, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project.
In Biden’s view the war could have ended 10 years ago with the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida extremist network planned and executed the 9/11 plot from an Afghanistan sanctuary. Al-Qaida has been vastly diminished, preventing it thus far from again attacking the United States.
Speaking shortly after that attack, Biden stuck to his view that ending the war was the right move. He said it was past time for the United States to focus on threats emanating from elsewhere in the world.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “It was time to end a 20-year war.”