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Troops Are Out Of Afghanistan, Ending The Longest War In American History

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The war in Afghanistan ended quietly today with military transport planes flying the last remaining soldiers out of Hamid Karzai International Airport a few hours before dawn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KENNETH MCKENZIE: I'm here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and vulnerable Afghans.

CORNISH: U.S. troops destroyed munitions and equipment just before they left, ending 20 years of military engagement - the longest war in U.S. history. More than 2,400 troops lost their lives, including 13 in a suicide attack near the Kabul airport just last week. And today, the Pentagon acknowledged the possible loss of civilian lives in a drone attack on Islamic State militants. Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed in the war, and those who survive face an uncertain future under a repressive Taliban regime. Joining us now is NPR's Tom Bowman. He's covered the war for the past 20 years. Tom, I just want to start with the announcement. What else did the general have to say?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, General McKenzie said the ground commander, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Ambassador Ross Wilson were among those on the last flight out. He said it was at 3:29 p.m. D.C. time. So Audie, just after midnight in Kabul - so August 31 there, the deadline set by President Biden - the general said the Taliban were told at the last minute when the U.S. would leave. And he said the U.S. troops destroyed a rocket defense system, 70 large armored vehicles, 27 Humvees and also 73 aircraft. He said some American citizens and Afghans were left behind and the State Department would work to get them out.

He also said he was heartbroken by the recent - the deaths of 13 American service members in that suicide attack last week. And he noted that both he and his son served in Afghanistan. He said he was conflicted about the end and said he was focused on getting troops out. And he said right now he has no time for reflection, but it will come. And, of course, Audie, that will come for many, many others as well.

CORNISH: I heard you say last flights. Is that clear that's the case?

BOWMAN: Yes. Everyone's out.

CORNISH: How many people at this point - in terms of the fate of those who worked for the U.S., how many people are there? What do we know about them?

BOWMAN: Well, thousands are there. Many of the Afghans who work with the Americans who were unable to get out either were outside of Kabul because they had no way of getting to Kabul through the Taliban line. So that's a concern. And again, what the general said was the State Department would work to get those people out.

CORNISH: In the meantime, Tom, the Pentagon, as we said, actually acknowledged the possible loss of civilian life in that retaliatory drone raid. Is there any more detail?

BOWMAN: No, they said they believe there were civilian casualties. They don't know how many. They're continuing to assess reports of up to 10 civilians killed when the U.S. carried out that drone strike Sunday on a vehicle near the Kabul airport. The U.S. says ISIS-K was planning an imminent attack on U.S. forces and they had to act. Pentagon said there was a secondary explosion caused by weapons in that vehicle, they believe, laden with, you know, bombs and - but it's unclear what will happen with U.S. forces, whether, you know - whether they will, you know, deal with those who were lost and how they will deal with it.

CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Thank you for this update.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.