Top U.S. Military Officer Tells Troops Afghanistan Exit Was Heroic: 'Hold Your Heads High'

The top U.S. military officer told troops that participated in the evacuation from Afghanistan that their actions were heroic, saying "hold your heads high" in a message of thanks that doubled as a pep talk, according to the Associated Press.

Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to military aircrews at New Jersey's Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on Tuesday. He said the war did not end the way many had desired.

"This is not the outcome any of us wanted, but it is the outcome that we have," Milley told the troops, who helped fly evacuees out of Afghanistan. "And know that at the tail end here, what you did as individuals and collectively was something enormously heroic and honorable and noble."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Gen. Mark Milley
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. troops that participated in the Afghanistan evacuation their actions were heroic. Above, Milley holds a press briefing about the military exit from Afghanistan on September 1. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Milley spent much of the weekend traveling through Europe, speaking to U.S. service members who participated in the evacuation. The effort got more than 124,000 Americans, Afghans and others out of the country in the wake of the government's collapse amid a violent and swift Taliban takeover. The Biden administration has been criticized for the turbulent evacuation that left many at-risk Afghans behind and killed 13 U.S. troops in a suicide bombing at a Kabul airport gate as they were screening Afghans desperate to get out.

Milley's audience included the aircrew of the C-17 that took off from Kabul with 823 people crowded on board. In the early days of the evacuation, Afghans frantically climbed onto the aircraft. Rather than force some to get off, the crew decided to take off with what Milley said was three times their normal load of people. Photos of the jammed plane went viral on social media.

Turkey Working With U.S., Qatar to Repair Kabul Airport: Foreign Minister

On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for an inclusive government in Afghanistan, one that would also include women, signaling to the Taliban that this would be a precondition for any international recognition.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Cavusoglu did not directly respond to a question on whether Turkey would recognize a Taliban administration. "If unity is desired in the country, a government that will include everyone must be established," he said.

"It is our wish that women will also be in the established government," he added. "We will act according to the conditions and developments."

The minister said that Turkey was working with the United States and Qatar on getting the Kabul airport operating again, without elaborating. He said 19 Turkish technicians were currently working there.

Technical experts from Qatar and Turkey have begun repairs, though it's not clear when the airport will be up and running. The Taliban have said only domestic flights have resumed and just during the day for now.

Cavusoglu said for the airport to resume working, the Taliban can secure the airport from the outside, "but a structure that the international community can trust is needed inside."

Turkey has offered to provide security for the airport, but the Taliban have so far refused.

Afghan Refugee Camp
An Afghan refugee camp inside the U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany, on Monday. Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP