WASHINGTON — Defense Chief Lloyd Austin plans to travel to the Arabian Gulf next week, following the U.S.'s complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
"Now the war is over and we're entering a new chapter one where our diplomats take the lead. We are part of an urgent effort to move afghan evacuees out of temporary housing in intermediate staging bases in the Gulf and in Europe," Austin told reporters during a press conference Wednesday.
Austin adds, he'll be traveling there next week "to thank our partners there who have done so much to help save and shelter Afghan civilians."
The last U.S. flight out of Kabul took off a minute before midnight local time Monday. It was met with fireworks and gunfire as the Taliban celebrated the withdrawal, 20 years after their regime was toppled by American forces.
With the operation now complete, a U.S. official described some of the methods used to get American citizens to the Kabul airport during the evacuation.
In some cases, State Department officials stayed on the phone with evacuees, talking them through the walk into the airport, one-on-one, and facilitating their safe passage through checkpoints.
In limited cases where Americans were trapped or in immediate danger, U.S. security forces completed dangerous airborne missions, what they called, “helo hops," to pick people up via helicopter safely, the official said.
Another U.S. official says Afghan CIA assets, part of what are called “counter terrorism pursuits team,” helped retrieve American citizens in Kabul, safely bringing them to the Kabul airport to be evacuated.
Still, the majority of American citizens were evacuated through, what they call, a “muster point.” The State Department sent tailored instructions through various channels, including email, phone, and text, to Americans instructing them to meet at a specific location. Once gathered, the Americans were either bussed into the airport in convoys or escorted on foot.
The U.S. offered the Americans multiple opportunities, at multiple times, to gather at each of the muster points, the official said.
Kabul’s airport has been the center for evacuations, but with commercial flights stopped, sights have shifted to Afghanistan’s land borders. But the odds that Afghans will reach one of those borders without Taliban interference, be allowed to cross into a neighboring country and then be resettled in the U.S. are daunting.
President Joe Biden in a speech on Tuesday defended his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan as critics question the chaotic final chapter of the nation's longest war.
"I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit," he said at the White House in his first public speech since the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan.