The departure caps a chaotic withdrawal that was rushed by the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country and scarred by a suicide attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 other people. More than 120,000 people had been evacuated since Aug. 14, amounting to one of the largest airlifts in history, but the deteriorating security and chaos at the airport resulted in some Americans and thousands of Afghan allies being left behind.
In a news conference, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie announced “the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and vulnerable Afghans.”
President Biden said later that there was unanimity among military leaders to end the airlift mission as planned.
He praised U.S. forces for evacuating more than 120,000 Americans and allies. The president said in a statement that he will address the nation Tuesday on his decision not to extend operations beyond then, but that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all commanders on the ground agreed that ending the military mission was “the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid celebrated the news Monday evening.
“The last American occupier withdrew from (Kabul Airport) at 12 o’clock, and our country gained its full independence,” he tweeted. “Praise and gratitude be to God.”
The Taliban has agreed to allow foreign nationals and Afghans with relevant travel documents to leave the country safely after the international rescue mission ends Tuesday, the United States and dozens of other countries said Sunday.
No American civilians were on the last five flights, McKenzie said.
A U.S. drone strike targeting Islamic State militants killed 10 civilians over the weekend, family members said Monday.
The United Nations pleaded with the international community Monday to remain focused on the plight of Afghan civilians, warning that “a far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning” as evacuations from Afghanistan end.
Fiverockets were fired at the Kabul airport early Monday,one of which was intercepted by a missile defense system,according to the Pentagon.
The last U.S. boots on the ground, bathed in night-vision green
After nearly 20 years of continuous U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, an Army general ascended the ramp of a transport plane sometime before 11:59 p.m. Monday, closing the chapter on U.S. involvement in the country’s longest war.
In awe of our Sky Dragon Soldiers.
This was an incredibly tough, pressurized mission filled with multiple complexities, with active threats the entire time. Our troops displayed grit, discipline and empathy.
Army Maj. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, was the last senior service member with his feet planted on Afghan soil, officials said, before boarding a C-17 transport plane with Ross Wilson, the top diplomat in Kabul until shortly after his departure.
Donahue was photographed in night-vision green — evoking the way Americans fought in Afghan darkness — as he carried an M4. Other aircraft, including drones and fighter jets, flew overhead to protect the last departing flights, Pentagon officials said.
Taliban members took the airport soon after the withdrawal was complete, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter who said he was there with them.
They may have watched the flights depart; the armed men in the hangar wore their own night-vision goggles — a small part of the bounty of U.S.-supplied equipment they now claim.
Russia calls on West to unfreeze Afghanistan’s reserves and pour in aid to rebuild country
MOSCOW — Russia’s ban on the Taliban as a terrorist group has not stopped Moscow officials from stepping in to support it by calling for the freeze on Afghanistan’s financial reserves to be lifted and for Western countries to lead a global conference to help rebuild the country’s economy.
Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said Monday that the international community should unfreeze the Afghan government’s reserves or risk a spike in illegal narcotics and arms traffic.
Speaking to a state-owned television network, he also called for an international conference to support Afghanistan’s recovery under the Taliban’s leadership so the United States and its allies could “correct at least some of the mistakes they have made” in the past 20 years.
The United States froze Afghan central bank reserves held in U.S. institutions on Aug. 15. The bank has about $9.5 billion in reserves, about $7 billion of which is held in U.S. institutions. The International Monetary Fund blocked Afghanistan’s access to $460 million in emergency reserves, and the World Bank halted funding to Afghanistan last week.
The threat of new conflicts, spreading terrorism and a humanitarian catastrophe that scatters millions of Afghan refugees across the region poses a nightmare scenario for Russia.
‘Don’t you ever forget that name,’ grieving father tells Biden
President Biden made his way on Sunday around a quiet room at Dover Air Force Base, a chamber filled with couches and chairs, with dignitaries and grieving families huddling together as the president came to speak to them privately, one family at a time.
Mark Schmitz had told a military officer the night before that he wasn’t much interested in speaking to a president he did not vote for, one whose execution of the Afghan pullout he disdains — and one he now blames for the death of his 20-year-old son, Jared.
But overnight, staying in a nondescript hotel nearby, Schmitz changed his mind. So on that dreary morning he and his ex-wife were approached by Biden after he’d talked to all the other families. But by his own account, Schmitz glared hard at the president, so Biden spent more time looking at his ex-wife, repeatedly invoking his own son, Beau, who died six years ago.
Schmitz did not want to hear about Beau — he wanted to talk about Jared. Eventually, the parents took out a photo to show to Biden. “I said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that name. Don’t you ever forget that face. Don’t you ever forget the names of the other 12,’ ” Schmitz said. “ ‘And take some time to learn their stories.’ ”
Biden did not seem to like that, Schmitz recalled, and he bristled, offering a blunt response: “I do know their stories.”
The Biden administration suspended embassy operations in Afghanistan on Monday and opened a new diplomatic office for Afghanistan in Qatar, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an address at the State Department.
The top U.S. diplomat said the new Doha-based office would handle U.S. relations with Afghanistan, including looking after the Americans who remain in the country and are seeking to get out, a figure he said was between 100 and 200.
“We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans to leave Afghanistan,” Blinken said.
Blinken said the U.S. posture toward a future Taliban government would be rooted in U.S. national interest, especially regarding whether the Taliban will help free American hostages and “bring security to the country.”
“We will not do it on the basis of trust or faith,” Blinken said. “Not on what the Taliban government says, but what it does.” The decision amounts to a diplomatic role reversal as the Taliban’s political leadership relocates to Afghanistan from Qatar and U.S. diplomats move from Kabul to the Qatari capital. Blinken said Ian McCary, the former No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, would lead the new U.S. Doha office.
Commanding general and top diplomat were last to leave Afghanistan
The last U.S. military flight out of Afghanistan departed at 11:59 p.m. in Kabul, with the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and the acting U.S. ambassador on the last aircraft, said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the chief of U.S. Central Command.
Army Maj. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue and Ross Wilson, the top diplomat in Kabul, left with other U.S. troops on a C-17 as U.S. strike aircraft flew overhead to provide security, McKenzie said. The aircraft and four other jets were part of what the military calls the “joint tactical exfiltration,” and carried no American civilians, he said.
The planes took off amid a pervasive threat from the Islamic State. McKenzie told reporters that there are at least 2,000 Islamic State fighters free in Afghanistan after prison breaks this month while the Taliban seized control of Kabul.
The Taliban provided security on the outskirts of the airport as the U.S. military departed, McKenzie said.
“They established a firm perimeter outside of the airfield to prevent people from coming onto the airfield during our departure, and we worked on that with them for a number of days,” McKenzie said. “They did not have direct knowledge of our time of departure — we chose to keep that information very restricted — but they were actually very helpful and useful to us as we closed down operations.”
About 800 U.S. troops were on the last five C-17s departing Kabul, said a U.S. defense official familiar with the operation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. They departed Afghan airspace before 1 a.m. local time.
As the planes took off, the U.S. military had a fleet of aircraft overhead that included a mix of MQ-9 Reaper drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and F-15 fighters, the defense official said. “They were all there at the end,” the official said, describing it as a way to deter attacks.
Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, a Navy SEAL officer who had commanded forces in Afghanistan during the evacuation, departed Kabul on Sunday, the official said.
Shortly after the last U.S. flight out of Kabul, Biden said there was unanimity among U.S. military leaders to end the Afghanistan airlift mission as planned.
In a statement, the president thanked the commanders and U.S. services members for evacuating more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan allies over 17 days, insisted that all agreed the mission should end by the Aug. 31 deadline that he had announced and said he would address the nation Tuesday.
“Our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” Biden said. Ahead of his remarks, he added, “For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned. Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
The president said the Taliban has made commitments on safe passage of any Americans, Afghan partners and other foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan. “The world will hold them to their commitments,” Biden said.
The president urged Americans to join him in “grateful prayer” for an airlift that evacuated tens of thousands more than imagined, the network of volunteers and veterans who assisted, and those who will welcome refugees in the United States and other countries.
He also expressed gratitude for the 13 Americans who lost their lives in Thursday’s terrorist attack, mentioning them each by name.
‘We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,’ general says of evacuation effort
The top general overseeing operations in Afghanistan said Monday that while the U.S. military’s evacuation operation there is over, other components of the U.S. government will continue looking for ways to extricate Americans and Afghan allies who are still there.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” said Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of U.S. Central Command. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out.”
McKenzie said the “diplomatic sequel” to the military’s rescue effort is underway and will focus on bringing out Americans, who number in the “low hundreds,” and Afghans.
McKenzie predicted that the United States will negotiate with the Taliban to get others out, with the State Department taking the lead.
The military’s rescue operation in Afghanistan was the largest noncombatant evacuation operation in its history, McKenzie said. The military evacuated 79,000 people through Hamid Karzai International Airport, including about 6,000 Americans, he added.
The Biden administration has said the overall effort, counting charter flights and allied efforts, evacuated more than 122,000 people.
“The numbers I provided represent a monumental accomplishment, but they do not do justice to the determination, the grit, the flexibility, and the professionalism of the U.S. military and our coalition partners, who were able to rapidly combine efforts and evacuate so many under difficult conditions,” McKenzie said.
No American civilians on last five military flights out of Kabul, Central Command chief says
No American civilians were onboard the last five military flights out of Kabul, according to Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.
“We maintained the ability to bring them in until immediately before departure,” McKenzie told reporters of the last exiting aircraft, which he referred to as “joint tactical exfiltration.”
“We would have been prepared to bring them on until the very last minute,” he added. “But none of them made it to the airport.”
McKenzie estimated that the U.S. citizens left in Afghanistan “number in the very low hundreds.” He stressed that the United States will continue trying to extract them and “negotiate very hard and aggressively” to get eligible Afghans to come to the United States.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” he acknowledged. But it will be up to the State Department, McKenzie said, to get those left behind.
“The military’s phase of this operation has ended. … The diplomatic sequel to that will now begin,” he said. “The weapons have just shifted, if you will, from the military realm to the diplomatic realm.”
McKenzie said the last two on the ground were Army Maj. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, who was in charge of overseeing the Kabul airport operation, and Ross Wilson, head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.
“The State and Defense team came out on the last aircraft and were, in fact, the last people to stand on the ground, step onto an airplane,” McKenzie said.
The U.S. military flew its final evacuation flight out of Afghanistan on Monday, pulling out all U.S. diplomats and military personnel and bringing an end to America’s longest war, the Pentagon said.
The departure caps a chaotic withdrawal that was rushed by the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country and scarred by a deadly suicide attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans on Thursday, as well as a drone strike on alleged Islamic State fighters on Sunday that also killed several children, according to surviving family members.
“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 Sept. 11, 2001,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command.
More than 122,000 people were evacuated since Aug. 14, amounting to one of the largest airlifts in history, but the deteriorating security situation and pandemonium at the airport resulted in thousands of Afghan allies and fewer than 250 Americans being left behind, said a senior State Department official.
Efforts to assist people hoping to escape the Taliban’s rule grew more urgent as renewed militant threats left Afghans largely shut out of evacuation flights. Rockets were fired at the airport Sunday night in a bloodless attack for which the Islamic State later claimed responsibility.
The full evacuation of U.S. diplomats underscored the dangerous environment that American forces left behind just weeks after State Department spokesman Ned Price announced Aug. 12 that the U.S. Embassy would remain open and that its staff would “continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to provide remarks later Monday on the future of U.S. diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and efforts to help Americans and Afghan allies still seeking to get out of the country.
U.N. Security Council urges Taliban to stick to promises
The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Monday to urge the Taliban to follow through on promises to allow Afghans to depart the country when they choose, calling on the militants to permit humanitarian activities and prevent extremists from launching attacks.
Thirteen nations, including France, Britain and the United States, voted in favor of the resolution, which also condemned last week’s deadly bombing at the Kabul airport and highlighted the need for a negotiated political settlement that would respect the rights of all Afghans. China and Russia abstained, criticizing the West’s handling of its exit from Afghanistan after a two-decade military effort.
“By adopting this resolution, the Security Council has shown that the world expects the Taliban to live up to these promises today, tomorrow and after August 31st,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after the vote.
“This is of the utmost importance to us.”
Thomas-Greenfield said the United Nations was disappointed by the abstentions by Moscow and Beijing.
During the meeting, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he abstained because the resolution did not include a passage about the fight against organizations including the Islamic State and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Nebenzia said such an omission underplayed those groups’ threats.
Nebenzia also underscored the “negative impact” the evacuations had on Afghanistan’s economy.
“With this brain drain, the country will not be able to achieve its sustainable-development goals,” he said.
Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said that the resolution would intensify tensions in Afghanistan and that the international community should respect the nation’s sovereignty and “right to determine their own future.”
Jun criticized the “hasty and chaotic” withdrawal of U.S. troops and said countries that were present in Afghanistan “should be responsible for what they have done in the past 20 years.”
White House says about 6,000 Americans have left Afghanistan since Aug. 14
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that about 6,000 Americans have been evacuated or otherwise have departed Afghanistan since Aug. 14. But she said the United States still does not know the exact number of Americans who remain in the country.
“We believe there are still a small number — I understand you’re asking for the exact number — who remain,” Psaki said in response to a question at Monday’s White House news briefing. “We’re trying to determine exactly how many, and we’re going through manifests and calling and texting through our lists. And we’ll have more of a concrete number for you as soon as possible.”
Part of the difficulty, Psaki said, is that there are some “longtime residents of Afghanistan,” including dual citizens, the “vast majority” of whom are “still trying to determine if they want to leave or not.”
A library was built to honor a rising star killed by the Taliban. Now her memorial is in shambles.
The Najiba public library in Afghanistan’s remote Daikundi province was a repository of more than just books. It honored the life of Najiba Bahar, a young woman and local rising star killed in a Taliban-claimed car bombing in Kabul in 2017.
Now it is in shambles.
The library and related computer lab were looted sometime last week, shortly after the Taliban took over the province on Aug. 16, said Jawad Frotan, manager of the Najiba Foundation, which runs the center.
Frotan said he suspected that the Taliban had destroyed it, a charge the group denied. Frotan spoke from an undisclosed location while on the run to protect himself from the extremist group, he said.
When the Taliban fighters entered the area, Frotan said, they told the foundation’s guard to leave his post, saying the group would protect it.
“The library is just a one-minute walk from a big Taliban base,” Frotan said. “The Taliban bears the responsibility even if its fighters did not loot the library. They took the responsibility from our guard.”
For days after the Taliban’s return, Frotan was too afraid to venture out to visit the library. When he finally did on Aug. 23, he found the center’s door broken, books and photos destroyed, and its prized computers gone.
“Everything had been destroyed,” he said.
Videos and photos shared with The Washington Post showed books, chairs and other library equipment smashed.
A Taliban commander in the province told The Post that he did not know about the library and would share “their findings with the media.” He denied the group’s fighters were behind the looting.
The looters smashed a photo of Bahar, who had studied in India and Japan and attained undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Four years ago, just months after she returned to Kabul, Bahar and her colleagues at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum in Kabul were riding a bus targeted by the Taliban. She and 34 other employees in the ministry died in the bombing.
Bahar was engaged to be married a month later.
Her fiance, Hussain Rezai, founded the Najiba Foundation, which runs the library and computer lab, in July 2019 to honor her memory and to make books and computers accessible to children in the province, a Hazara-dominated area in Afghanistan’s central highlands.
It became a hub of knowledge and entertainment: Boys and girls had easy access to books, children watched cartoons in the computer labs, and girls played volleyball.
Bahar’s death shocked Frotan — but so has the speed with which everything they attempted to build has been knocked down.
“I could not believe it,” Frotan said. “We were serving people.”
United Nations warns that ‘far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning’ in Afghanistan
The United Nations pleaded with the international community Monday to remain focused on the plight of Afghan civilians, warning that “a far greater humanitarian crisis is just beginning” as evacuations from Afghanistan end “and the tragedy that has unfolded will no longer be as visible.”
“The scenes at Kabul airport these past few days have sparked an outpouring of compassion around the world at the fear and desperation of thousands of Afghans,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “But when these images have faded from our screens, there will still be millions who need the international community to act. … When the airlift and the media frenzy are over, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, some 39 million, will remain inside Afghanistan. They need us — governments, humanitarians, ordinary citizens — to stay with them and stay the course.”
On Monday, the World Health Organization said it had delivered its first shipment of medical supplies to Afghanistan since the Taliban regained power two weeks ago. The U.N. agency said it was the first of three deliveries planned in coordination with Pakistan.
“After days of non-stop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that — for now — WHO-supported health services can continue,” Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, neighboring Pakistan’s interior minister said Monday that it had not granted refugee status to any Afghans who had fled across its border since the Taliban takeover.
After decades of war and foreign military intervention, about 3.5 million Afghans have been displaced, more than half a million since the start of this year, the agency said.
For decades, Afghanistan’s neighbors, notably Pakistan and Iran, have hosted millions of Afghan refugees. In recent years, as conditions for refugees have worsened, many have tried their luck being smuggled into Turkey, with some then trying to travel on to Europe via dangerous routes. As the U.S. deadline for withdrawal loomed, refugee advocates warned that refugee programs in Afghanistan’s neighboring countries were underfunded and ill-equipped to absorb an influx of people.
Since the Taliban retook control of Kabul on Aug. 15, the United States, among other countries, has evacuated thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces or who oppose the extremist group. But countless other Afghans who worked with U.S. forces or fear for their lives under the Taliban’s rule remain desperate to leave, with no way out.
Departures from Kabul winnow as evacuation winds down
Only 1,200 evacuees departed Kabul on 26 military flights Sunday, according to Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, in the latest sign that the U.S. military is bringing its Afghanistan evacuation operations to a close.
To date, 122,000 people, including 5,400 American citizens, have been pulled out of Afghanistan since rescue operations began in earnest on Aug. 14. The Pentagon has not said exactly how many of those evacuees are Afghans, just that they make up the “vast majority.”
The military has also not said whether all Americans seeking to leave the country will be able to before the end of the month.
“There is still time” for U.S. passport holders to get out of the country, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “The State Department is in touch, we know, with additional American citizens.”
Though the military’s figures are approximate, the number of Americans who have departed Afghanistan has not changed since Saturday, when Pentagon officials announced that about 5,400 American citizens had been evacuated. At the time, there were an estimated 350 Americans still in Afghanistan who wanted to leave.
On Monday, Kirby reminded reporters that Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised the State Department would “continue to work across many different levers” to ensure that those Americans remaining in Afghanistan could exit.
“Right now, we do not anticipate a military role in that effort,” Kirby added.
Kirby said all U.S. troops would be out of Kabul by the Aug. 31 deadline. The Pentagon has refused to detail how many troops are still in Afghanistan, citing security concerns.
At this point, the United States is moving more evacuees between processing and temporary housing facilities outside Afghanistan than airlifting people out of Kabul. Taylor said that more than 27,000 people are waiting “follow-on movement” from six “active locations” and that about 3,700 evacuees are expected to arrive Monday at Dulles International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport, on a total of 17 flights. He noted that about 13,000 evacuees have already been brought to five installations in the United States.
Last week, the Pentagon said it was working toward having the capacity to hold up to 50,000 people on seven U.S. bases and installations.