One day after the deadline for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan — and with thousands of allies and Americans left behind — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley lauded the US forces’s efforts in the embattled nation, calling the chaotic evacuation “heroic” and “historic.”
On Wednesday, a senior State Department official reportedly told NBC News that the “majority” of Afghans who worked with the US government throughout the war in Afghanistan didn’t make it out.
Tuesday marked the end of America’s longest war, which lasted 19 years and 47 weeks, cost some $2 trillion and took the lives of nearly 2,500 US troops and about 240,000 Afghans.
As thousands rushed to flee the country before the deadline, US troops helped evacuate 79,000 civilians on US military aircraft since Aug. 14 — including 6,000 Americans and 73,500 Afghans and third-country citizens, according to US officials.
However, several hundred Americans remain in the embattled country following the withdrawal, according to the Pentagon, which pointed out that many chose to stay.
A recently released photo of Austin and Milley shows the two watching the last US plane depart Kabul, just over two weeks after the Taliban took control of the city and much of Afghanistan.
The frenzied US troop withdrawal and evacuation efforts were further devastated last week by an ISIS-K suicide bombing attack that killed 13 US soldiers and nearly 200 Afghans on Thursday. The bombing halted all evacuation efforts until Friday morning and has become a new point of criticism towards the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis in Afghanistan.
“No operation is ever perfect,” Austin told reporters, adding that the Department of Defense will perform after action reviews and “learn every lesson” possible in the coming days.
Austin admitted that the Special Immigrant Visa program “should be looked at going forward,” saying it is designed to be a slow process.
“Secretary Blinken and the State Department worked hard early on to shorten the timeline that it takes to work your way through that process. But again, for the type of operation that we just conducted, I think, I think we need a different type of capability,” he said.
Thousands of Afghan allies attempted to evacuate the war torn country through the SIV program but were unsuccessful, including an Afghan interpreter who helped in the 2008 rescue of then-Sen. Joe Biden and two other senators from a valley in Afghanistan.
Among those stranded in Afghanistan are reportedly dozens of journalists employed by the US Agency for Global Media, which include outlets such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul claimed 500 journalists employed by the agency and their family members remain in Afghanistan.
“It is absolutely disgraceful the US State Department claimed they evacuated their local employees when in reality they abandoned hundreds of USAGM journalists and their families,” McCaul said in a statement Tuesday.
Thousands of Afghan allies of other Western countries also remain stranded. Canada has estimated roughly 1,250 Canadian citizens, permanent residents or family members remain in the country, while Britain has estimated around 800 to 1,100 Afghans who worked with the British and eligible for evacuation could not make it out. Meanwhile, Germany announced on Tuesday that there are between 10,000 and 40,000 local staff working in Afghanistan that are unable to be evacuated to the European country.