UPDATED with Biden statement: The last U.S. military flight left Kabul’s international airport Monday, marking an end to nearly 20 years of occupation in Afghanistan.
Cable news networks covered the announcement Monday by Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, chairman of the U.S. Central Command, that the last military plane left the country, leaving control of the airport in the hands of the Taliban. It also marked the end of a tumultuous evacuation, triggered by the quick collapse of the U.S.-supported Afghan government and then the attacks by terrorists.
An ISIS-K attack last week killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans outside the airport gates, where a flood of people had sought to gain passage on flights to flee the country.
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In news coverage, a number of reporters noted that it was left to McKenzie to make the announcement of the conclusion of the U.S. occupation, not President Joe Biden, who has been adamant that it was time for the U.S. to withdraw.
The initial announcement was made by McKenzie after midnight in Kabul, as the deadline for withdrawal was on August 31.
“Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” Biden said in a statement. More than 120,000 were evacuated over the past 17 days, he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that there were an estimated 100-200 Americans still in Afghanistan who have indicated they want to leave. “We are trying to determine exactly how many,” he said. With the military mission over, the State Department will be tasked with helping them secure departure. The U.S. diplomatic mission in Kabul also is being suspended and moving to Doha, Qatar.
There also are estimated to be tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S., eligible for special visas, who were not evacuated but still wish to leave.
“The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments,” Biden said. “It will include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.”
At a press conference, Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin asked McKenzie what his thought were at the end of America’s longest war, given that the country has returned to Taliban control. McKenzie said that he was “conflicted,” but said that he would have time for further reflection in the coming days.
“Four presidents, 20 years. Both Obama and Trump promised to end this war. Now President Biden has done it. It may not have been a pretty exit, but it is a very significant moment for the United States,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said after McKenzie’s announcement.
During an NBC News special report, correspondent Richard Engel said, “This was a humbling day for the United States, a day of humility for a world superpower. Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires.” He noted that the U.S. follows British and Soviet forces in leaving the country in defeat. “This is a difficult moment for the military,” he said.
Biden will deliver an address about the withdrawal Tuesday.