The final U.S. troops lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, late Monday, signifying the end of a two-decade conflict than began shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
The close of America’s longest war comes after a furious withdrawal effort that was carried out in the face of multiple terror attacks, including 13 U.S. service members who were killed in a bombing last week.
“Over an 18-day period, U.S. military aircraft have evacuated more than 79,000 civilians, from Hamid Karzai International Airport,” Marine General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie said during a video press conference in which he announced the end of the military mission. In total, he said, U.S. and coalition aircraft evacuated more than 123,000 civilians, which he called “the largest non-combatant evacuation in the U.S. military’s history.”
Still, not all Americans have left Afghanistan—a fact that sparked bipartisan calls for the United States to extend its mission in the country. At separate Monday press conferences Pentagon and White House spokespersons could not say exactly how many Americans were left behind.
In a Monday statement President Joe Biden said the decision to end military operations on time “was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground,” who believed it would “secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
McKenzie confirmed that the work to extract Americans and allies would keep going.
“While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues,” McKenzie said.
That work has led to a flood of calls to congressional offices around the country, including lawmakers who represent North Central Florida.
“Our team is working with the State Department, the Pentagon, and other congressmen who are attached with mission groups, as we try to get out as many people as possible,” said Leah Courtney, communications director for Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., whose district covers Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, Suwannee and Columbia counties. “We serve as the team responsible for both people who are connecting overseas and need our help and from people who just don’t know what to do, are upset and confused.”
More than 800,000 American service members and 25,000 civilians served in Afghanistan during the 20-year conflict, according to the Department of Defense. The final death toll came to 2,461.
The Taliban, which swiftly took control of Afghanistan earlier this month, coordinated with the U.S. military in the final days of the withdrawal, but it’s unclear how cooperative the militants will be moving forward as more Americans try to leave.
It’s a very emotional time for everyone involved, Courtney said. Dunn has an extended background with the military as the son of a service member, leading to Dunn spending 18 months in Vietnam while in middle school. Dunn also has a son who served in Afghanistan.
In a statement on July 22 urging lawmakers to support legislation for additional visas for Afghans the U.S. military hired during the war, Dunn said he did not want to leave behind anyone who helped America—as happened at the end of the Vietnam War. The bill passed overwhelmingly.
“My war was Vietnam, and I remember the end of that war,” Dunn said in a video. “I remember the friends we left behind, the families that were torn apart, and it still weighs on me.”
Last week the office of Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla.—whose district includes Alachua, Bradford, Union and Clay counties—released an update on how to help evacuate American citizens and those with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).
The bulletin also addressed avenues of support for local veterans who are struggling with renewed trauma—a topic the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System will tackle at an online event Tuesday afternoon.
Cammack’s release listed several links on how to help people in Afghanistan and directed constituents to an online form. The email echoed the same sentiment as Dunn: “While we cannot guarantee the outcome, we are doing everything we can to help. We will not leave anyone behind.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.