The Pentagon confirmed Monday it had finished its evacuation mission in Afghanistan. According to the head of the U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie, the last U.S. planes took off just a minute before midnight Tuesday local time. Tuesday was the deadline President Joe Biden had set to have all Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.
“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 11th, 2001,” Gen. McKenzie said. “It’s a mission that brought Osama Bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his Al-Qaeda co-conspirators.”
In Kabul, the scene after the last plane departed was a celebratory one, with Taliban fighters firing their guns into the air.
“The last five aircraft have left, it’s over!” Taliban fighter Hemad Sherzad said. “I cannot express my happiness in words. … Our 20 years of sacrifice worked.”
President Biden released a statement after the Pentagon’s announcement.
“I want to thank our commanders and the men and women serving under them for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled,” Biden said. “The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve.”
Despite the President’s compliments, McKenzie acknowledged at Monday’s Pentagon briefing that the mission wasn’t a complete success.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” McKenzie said. In a Tuesday evening speech, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “under 200, likely closer to 100” Americans who want to leave Afghanistan are still there.
In his statement, Biden said he would address his decision to not extend the deadline for getting everyone out of Kabul in a Tuesday news conference.
The withdrawal finished up as the situation at the Kabul airport was getting more dangerous by the day. Earlier Monday, Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate ISIS-K fired five rockets aimed at the airport. Those rockets landed in a nearby neighborhood. That attack came just four days after a suicide bombing at one of the airport gates killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.