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US 'didn't get everybody out that we wanted' before Afghanistan withdrawal: CENTCOM commander

Frank McKenzie
Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, announces the end of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in a press briefing on Aug. 30, 2021. |

As the United States military presence in Afghanistan comes to a close, the Biden administration has informed the media that hundreds of Americans who would like to evacuate remain in the country. 

Appearing at a press briefing Monday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, 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.”

The press briefing took place the day before the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal of American troops that the U.S. negotiated with the Taliban, which has taken control of much of the country.

McKenzie explained that “while the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues.”

Discussing the weekslong effort to evacuate U.S. citizens and others from the country, he indicated that not every American who wanted to leave was evacuated.

“We have evacuated more than 6,000 U.S. civilians, which we believe represents the vast majority of those who wanted to leave at this time,” he said.  

When asked “whether or not there were any American citizens or other civilians who were taken out” on the final flights out of Afghanistan, McKenzie said that they “were not able to bring any Americans out” on the flights.

According to the commander, “we continued the outreach and would have been prepared to … bring them on until the very last minute. But none of them made it to the airport and … were able to be accommodated.” 

McKenzie vowed that although “the military phase of this operation has ended, the diplomatic sequel to that will now begin.” He said that “our Department of State is going to work very hard” to get Americans remaining in Afghanistan out using diplomatic channels. He estimated that Americans remaining in Afghanistan “number in the … very low hundreds." 

“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” he added. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we had stayed another 10 days … we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out and there still would have been people ... disappointed with that.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken elaborated on the State Department’s efforts to evacuate Americans who remain in Afghanistan.

Blinken reported that John Bass, the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, will “spearhead our ongoing work across the State Department to help American citizens and permanent residents, citizens of allied nations, special immigrant visa applicants and Afghans at high risk if any of those people wish to depart Afghanistan.”  

“We believe there are still a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave,” he stated. “We will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan. The Taliban has committed to let anyone with proper documents leave the country in a safe and orderly manner.”

Blinken shared a quote from a senior official in the Taliban, who asserted that “any Afghans may leave the country, including those who worked for Americans, if they want and for whatever reason there may be.”

The secretary pointed to a partnership with “more than half the world’s countries,” who have insisted “that the Taliban let people travel outside Afghanistan freely.”

Blinken noted that “as of today, more than 100 countries have said that they expect the Taliban to honor travel authorizations by our countries.”

In a joint statement, the countries outlined their “commitment to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan.”

“We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country,” the statement continued. “We will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries. We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding.”

Signatories of the statement include European countries such as the United Kingdom and France, Latin American countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, African countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone, and the Middle Eastern countries of Israel and Jordan.

In his remarks, Blinken highlighted additional steps the international community took to secure freedom of movement in Afghanistan.

“Just a few short hours ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that enshrines that responsibility, laying the groundwork to hold the Taliban accountable if they renege," he said. "So, the international chorus on this is strong and it will stay strong. We will hold the Taliban to their commitment on freedom of movement for foreign nationals, visa holders, at-risk Afghans.”

Blinken stressed that “while we have expectations of the Taliban, that doesn’t mean we will rely on the Taliban.”

“Any engagement with the Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interest," he said.

Blinken emphasized that the relationship between the U.S. and the Taliban will not operate “on the basis of trust or faith.” Recent reports speculate that the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network may have played a role and had something to gain from the suicide bombings in and around the airport in Kabul last week that left 13 U.S. soldiers dead. 

The withdrawal of the remaining American troops from Afghanistan comes one week before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that precipitated U.S. involvement in the country in 2001.

During his remarks Monday, McKenzie illustrated that the war came with a cost of “2,461 U.S. service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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