As the final five U.S. military transport aircraft lifted off out of Afghanistan Monday, they left behind up to 200 Americans and thousands of desperate Afghans who couldn’t get out and now must rely on the Taliban to allow their departure.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will continue to try to get Americans and Afghans out of the country, and will work with Afghanistan’s neighbors to secure their departure either over land or by charter flight once the Kabul airport reopens.
Speaking shortly after the Pentagon announced the completion of the U.S. military pullout Monday, Blinken said the U.S. Embassy in Kabul will remain shuttered and vacant for the foreseeable future. American diplomats, he said, will be based in Doha, Qatar.
“We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans leave Afghanistan if they choose,” Blinken said in an address from the State Department. “Our commitment to them holds no deadline.”
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters the U.S. military was able to get as many as 1,500 Afghans out in the final hours of the American evacuation mission. But now it will be up to the State Department working with the Taliban to get any more people out.
McKenzie said there were no citizens left stranded at the airport and none were on the final few military flights out. He said the U.S. military maintained the ability to get Americans out right up until just before the end, but “none of them made it to the airport.”
“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” said McKenzie. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days we wouldn’t have gotten everybody that we wanted to get out.”
McKenzie and other officials painted a vivid picture of the final hours U.S. troops were on the ground, and the preparations they took to ensure that the Taliban and Islamic State group militants did not get functioning U.S. military weapons systems and other equipment.
The terror threat remains a major problem in Afghanistan, with at least 2,000 “hard core” members of the Islamic State group who remain in the country, including many released from prisons as the Taliban swept to control.