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Immediate Release

Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III

This week, we recognize the end of our military mission in Afghanistan -- one this nation began in the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, and one in which thousands of America's bravest served with courage and commitment. Proudly, that mission included the service of those who took on the responsibility to help evacuate more than 124,000 Afghans during one of the largest, most difficult and most dangerous humanitarian operations in U.S. military history. No other military could have protected so many lives under such challenging circumstances in such a short amount of time – not just because of our airlift or our logistics capabilities, but most of all because of the immense compassion, skill, and dedication of American Service members. As the Department observed last week, 13 courageous Americans gave their lives to defend their teammates and to help save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Afghan people. Here at home, our military helped settle more than 80,000 Afghans within the United States -- housing, feeding and providing medical care to families seeking a better life.

To honor that service, today I am announcing that, at President Biden's direction, all units involved in the retrograde operation from Afghanistan, Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome will be awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation or its equivalent. In addition, I am directing the Military Departments to perform an expedited review of all units present at Hamid Karzai International Airport from August 15 to August 30, 2021, to identify those units or individuals that meet the high standards of the Presidential Unit Citation or appropriate individual awards. Since World War II, the nation has recognized the extraordinary heroism of military units in action against an armed enemy with the Presidential Unit Citation. The President directed these actions after consultation with me and with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

No words can properly honor the deeds we recognize with these awards. What these awards reflect -- and what I hope the units who receive them will feel -- is the gratitude and love of our nation. I hope these awards serve as a reminder to each and every Service member who wears them of the lives they helped save and the thanks of the nation and Department of Defense they serve so well.