President Joe Biden said Monday that the Taliban had committed to providing "safe passage" to Americans and others who were left behind and wanted to leave Afghanistan.
I want to thank our commanders and the men and women serving under them for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled – in the early morning hours of August 31, Kabul time – with no further loss of American lives. The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve. Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended.
Tomorrow afternoon, I will address the American people on my decision not to extend our presence in Afghanistan beyond August 31. For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned. Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.
I have asked the Secretary of State to lead the continued coordination with our international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, Afghan partners, and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan. This will include work to build on the UN Security Council Resolution passed this afternoon that sent the clear message of what the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on moving forward, notably freedom of travel. The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments. 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.
For now, I urge all Americans to join me in grateful prayer tonight for three things. First, for our troops and diplomats who carried out this mission of mercy in Kabul and at tremendous risk with such unparalleled results: an airlift that evacuated tens of thousands more people than any imagined possible. Second, to the network of volunteers and veterans who helped identify those needing evacuation, guide them to the airport, and provide support along the way. And third, to everyone who is now – and who will – welcome our Afghan allies to their new homes around the world, and in the United States.
Finally, I want to end with a moment of gratitude for the sacrifice of the 13 service members in Afghanistan who gave their lives last week to save tens of thousands: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss.
Details of the Americans left behind were provided earlier during a media briefing with Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of the U.S. Central Command.
"There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get out everybody we wanted to get out," McKenzie said.
He went on to say that he believed the number of Americans left behind were "in the low — very low hundreds."
"I believe that we're going to be able to get those people out," McKenzie added.
The Pentagon said that more than 122,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan but of those, only 5,400 were American citizens.
During a contentious exchange one week ago between White House press secretary Jen Psaki and a Fox News reporter, Psaki had bristled at the suggestion that Americans were "stranded" in Afghanistan.
"I think it's irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not," Psaki snapped at reporter Peter Doocy.
"I'm just calling you out for saying we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan when I said, when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home," she said at the time.
Here's more about the end of the mission in Afghanistan:
Special Report: Pentagon announces last U.S. troops have left Afghanistan www.youtube.com