Leaders of the Defense Department shared their thoughts and feelings regarding America's longest war, which ended yesterday with the last military aircraft evacuation flying out of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, held a Pentagon press conference today.
Austin said his heart is with the families and loved ones killed in the Aug. 26 suicide attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Thirteen U.S. service members were killed, 22 wounded and over 100 Afghan evacuees were killed or wounded.
The secretary also said he remembers the 2,461 service members who were killed and the more than 20,000 wounded since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in October 2001, days after the 9/11 attacks.
Also, thousands of contractors were killed or wounded during that 20-year period, he said, along with tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers, along with coalition partners.
"Now, we have just concluded the largest air evacuation of civilians in American history. It was heroic. It was historic. And I hope that all Americans will unite to thank our service members for their courage and their compassion. They were operating in an immensely dangerous and dynamic environment. But our troops were tireless, fearless and selfless. Our commanders never flinched. And our allies and partners were extraordinary."
– Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III
The United States evacuated some 6,000 American citizens and more than 124,000 Afghan civilians.
Austin said he's proud of the way that military communities have welcomed the Afghan evacuees, many of whom fought alongside the Americans. "They and their families have more than earned their places in the land of the free and the home of the brave."
The secretary, who led troops in Afghanistan, said he's proud of those who served there, but that he respects the views shared by veterans regarding the war. "I've heard strong views from many sides in recent days. And that's vital. That's democracy. That's America."
Milley, who also led troops in Afghanistan, said America and the department will learn from the war. "We're going to learn from this experience as a military. How we got to this moment in Afghanistan will be analyzed and studied for years to come. And we in the military will approach this with humility, transparency and candor. There are many tactical, operational and strategic lessons to be learned."
The general also touched on the strong feelings people — veterans, especially — have had. "These have been incredibly emotional and trying days. Indeed, years. We're all conflicted with feelings of pain and anger, sorrow and sadness, combined with pride and resilience."
Regarding the fallen and others who made it home alive, he said: "One thing I am certain of. For any soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, and their family, your service mattered."