U.S. Embassy in Kabul Will Remain Empty After Withdrawal, Diplomats to Be Based in Qatar

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, will remain empty for the time being after the U.S. withdrawal as American diplomats will be based in Doha, Qatar, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, according to the Associated Press.

Blinken announced the vacancy of the embassy in Kabul after the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military pullout was finalized after nearly 20 years of involvement in Afghanistan. He said that the U.S. will continue to try to help remaining Americans and Afghans get out by working with neighboring nations.

Up to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan as well as thousands of Afghans who were unable to leave by the end of the withdrawal. However, Blinken said the remaining Americans that want to leave are closer to 100 people.

"We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans leave Afghanistan if they choose," Blinken said. "Our commitment to them holds no deadline."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. Flag At Embassy in Kabul
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, will remain empty for the time being after the U.S. withdrawal. American diplomats will be based in Doha, Qatar. Above, the American flag is reflected on the windows of the U.S. Embassy building in Kabul on July 30, 2021. Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images

As the final five U.S. military transport aircraft lifted off out of Afghanistan, they left behind Americans and Afghans who couldn't get out and now must rely on the Taliban to allow their departure.

Blinken said the U.S. will work with Afghanistan's neighbors to secure their departure either over land or by charter flight once the Kabul airport reopens.

"We have no illusion that any of this will be easy, or rapid," Blinken said.

Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters the U.S. military was able to get as many as 1,500 Afghans out in the final hours of the American evacuation mission. But now it will be up to the State Department working with the Taliban to get any more people out.

McKenzie said there were no citizens left stranded at the airport and none were on the final few military flights out. He said the U.S. military maintained the ability to get Americans out right up until just before the end, but "none of them made it to the airport."

"There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure," McKenzie said. "We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we'd stayed another 10 days, we wouldn't have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out."

McKenzie and other officials painted a vivid picture of the final hours U.S. troops were on the ground, and the preparations they took to ensure that the Taliban and Islamic State group militants did not get functioning U.S. military weapons systems and other equipment.

The terror threat remains a major problem in Afghanistan, with at least 2,000 "hard core" members of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) who remain in the country, including many released from prisons as the Taliban swept to control.

Underscoring the ongoing security threats, the weapon systems used just hours earlier to counter ISIS rockets launched toward the airport were kept operational until "the very last minute" as the final U.S. military aircraft flew out, officials said. One of the last things U.S. troops did was to make the so-called C-RAMS (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar System) inoperable.

McKenzie said they "demilitarized" the system so it can never be used again. Officials said troops did not blow up equipment in order to ensure they left the airport workable for future flights, once those begin again. In addition, McKenzie said the U.S. also disabled 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft so they can never be used again.

Throughout the day, as the final C-17 transport planes prepared to take off, McKenzie said the U.S. kept "overwhelming U.S. airpower overhead" to deal with potential ISIS threats.

Back at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watched the final 90 minutes of the military departure in real time from an operations center in the basement.

According to a U.S. official, they sat in hushed silence as they watched troops make last-minute runway checks, make the key defense systems inoperable and climb aboard the C-17s. The official said you could hear a pin drop as the last aircraft lifted off, and leaders around the room breathed sighs of relief.

Later, Austin phoned Major General Christopher Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who was coordinating the evacuation. Donahue and acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson were the last to board the final plane that left Kabul.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of military operations.

"Simply because we have left, that doesn't mean the opportunities for both Americans that are in Afghanistan that want to leave and Afghans who want to leave, they will not be denied that opportunity," McKenzie said.

The military left some equipment for the Taliban in order to run the airport, including two firetrucks, some front-end loaders and aircraft staircases.

Blinken said the U.S. will work with Turkey and Qatar to help them get the Kabul airport up and running again.

"This would enable a small number of daily charter flights, which is a key for anyone who wants to depart from Afghanistan moving forward," he said.

Afghanistan Evacuees
"We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans leave Afghanistan if they choose," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "Our commitment to them holds no deadline." Above, people evacuated from Kabul walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on August 30, 2021. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo