The last US military aircraft left Afghanistan on Monday after two decades of war, leaving behind the chaos and uncertainty of a nation once again under Taliban rule.
"I'm here to announce the completion of our withdrawal in Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans,” Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said in a press conference on Monday afternoon.
The evacuation itself was increasingly dicey, with some Afghans unable to reach Hamid Karzai International Airport, where US and allied evacuation flights were departing, because of Taliban-controlled checkpoints, warnings of ISIS-K attacks, and the suicide bomb attack that killed 13 US military personnel and dozens of Afghan civilians.
According to the White House, 123,000 US citizens and Afghan allies were evacuated between the end of July and Aug. 30 — 116,700 of those in the past two weeks. It’s unclear how many American citizens and Afghans who worked closely with the US are left in the country, but Biden has said that although the military evacuation mission is over, his administration will continue to work with those left behind to get them out.
Biden Administration officials said that 200 Americans remained in Afghanistan as of Monday but that number would likely grow.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said officials are trying to determine exactly how many Americans remain in the country during a press conference on Monday. One challenge is that there are many American-Afghan dual citizens with "deep roots" in the nation.
"For many, it's a painful choice," Blinken said, adding that if any Americans in Afghanistan change their mind, "we will help them leave."
He also emphasized that the US would hold the Taliban to its promise to allow anyone with proper documents to leave the country and that the US would continue working alongside Afghan citizens.
America’s final week in Afghanistan was marked by violence. Terrorist group ISIS-K has claimed credit for the suicide bomb, which was the deadliest attack against US forces in Afghanistan since 2011.
In retaliation, the US deployed drone strikes in Nangarhar province on Friday night and in Kabul on Sunday. The second strike, CNN and the Associated Press reported, killed between 3 and 10 Afghan civilians, including several children. Pentagon officials told reporters on Monday that an investigation was being conducted into the reported civilian deaths.
McKenzie said on Monday that the US State Department will now be responsible for helping the Americans and allies left behind — a number of people in the “very low hundreds” — to get out.
The US is leaving many in Afghanistan dealing with the fallout of two decades of a war in which more than 47,000 Afghan civilians died, according to data compiled by Brown University's Costs of War Project. That’s in addition to the deaths of 2,455 US troops since 2001. Women in Afghanistan, who regained rights to education, work, and political engagement after the Taliban lost control two decades ago, are now left wondering if they will be able to hold onto those hard-won gains.
Biden administration officials have said that they will rely on diplomatic and financial means to keep the Taliban accountable for women’s rights.
The US’s 20-year war in Afghanistan has spanned three presidencies before Biden, and during each, the commanders in chief struggled to define what victory there would look like. Former president George W. Bush began the conflict as part of his “war on terror.” Obama “surged” US forces into the country before a stalled attempt to withdraw. Former president Donald Trump, who is now decrying Biden’s actions, tried to meet with the Taliban as president and in April took credit for the planned troop withdrawal.
Nicole Fallert contributed reporting.