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Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin pledges to Afghanistan War veterans that US's thanks 'won't fade'

Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin
Posted at 12:29 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 13:50:27-04

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley marked the official end of a 20-year war in Afghanistan Wednesday by thanking veterans for their service and promising to support them.

"Our country owes you thanks that won't fade and support that won't falter," Austin said.

The final U.S. military plane departed the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Monday, marking the end of nearly 20 years of fighting in the country.

Austin noted that Monday concluded the largest airlift operation in American history. He added that 6,000 military personnel were airlifted out of the country in addition to 124,000 Afghan civilians.

"We have just concluded the largest air evacuations in our nation's history. It was heroic. It was historic," Austin said.

Moving forward, Austin promised to continue to protect Americans at home and abroad.

"It's our duty to defend this nation, and we're not going to take our eye off the ball," Austin said.

Both were asked whether the U.S. would work with the Taliban in the hopes of eliminating ISIS-K in Afghanistan. The Taliban and ISIS-K are sworn enemies, and ISIS-K is believed to be behind an explosion at the Kabul airport last week that killed 13 servicemembers and more than 100 Afghans.

"Whether or not (the Taliban) change remains to be seen," Milley said.

The final departure came ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline set by the White House to evacuate all military personnel and Afghans who assisted the U.S. as translators and in other capacities.

While Biden had promised to evacuate all Americans who sought to leave, the State Department reported Tuesday that as many as 200 people who expressed interest in leaving remained behind. The department added that many of those 200 had families in Afghanistan and may have reconsidered their decision to leave, though it remained committed to helping them leave.

On Tuesday, Biden defended his decision to leave Afghanistan.

"I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan," said Biden. "But I also know that the threat of terrorism continues in its pernicious and evil nature. But it has changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change too. We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don't need to fight a ground war to do it."