Exclusive: U.S. War in Afghanistan 'Is Over,' Final Plane Leaves Hundreds of Americans Behind

The two-decade U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has officially come to a close as the final military plane departed the international airport in Taliban-ruled Kabul amid a chaotic airlift to transport U.S. nationals and allied Afghans that served the war effort.

Many, however, were left behind with promises that diplomatic efforts to facilitate their return would continue as the last plane left.

"Final plane is wheels up. War is over," a senior U.S. defense official told Newsweek.

The aircraft, a U.S. Air Force C17 strategic transport aircraft with the callsign MOOSE94, departed the country at 11:59 p.m. local time, just ahead of the August 31 deadline announced earlier this year by President Joe Biden for the end to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan

Shortly after Newsweek broke the news of the war's official conclusion, the development was confirmed by U.S. Central Command chief Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. during a press briefing attended by Newsweek and reporters from dozens of other outlets.

"Every single U.S. servicemember is out of Afghanistan," he said.

McKenzie said the passengers of the final flight out included 82nd Airborne Division commander Army Major General Christopher T. Donahue and acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson.

A "notice to airmen" (NOTAM) issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration also classified that "effective immediately" Hamid Karzai International Airport "is uncontrolled."

The news came less than two weeks ahead of the symbolic 20th anniversary of 9/11, an event that brought U.S. intervention to the war-torn nation then under the rule of the Taliban, which harbored the Al-Qaeda militant group.

As the U.S. leaves, the Taliban has once again effectively taken control of the country. A final offensive this year saw the group take the country province by province as the U.S.-backed Afghan government and its security forces virtually collapsed, allowing the Taliban to enter the capital largely unopposed earlier this month.

Despite their historic enmity, the U.S. and the Taliban reached a peace deal in February of last year, an initiative undertaken by former President Donald Trump. His successor had vowed to continue the withdrawal, and after extending the original deadline of May 1 of this year, ultimately came through with the exit on Tuesday, local time.

The pullout was beset by a number of issues, including a rapid Taliban takeover that appeared to stun even U.S. officials, who were still clamoring to secure an airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans fearing they and their families may face retribution for their service to the U.S.

There was also a deadly attack launched by the Islamic State militant group's Khorasan branch (ISIS-K), which the U.S. promptly targeted in a drone strike.

A second drone strike on Sunday was said to have killed another would-be ISIS-K attacker, but local reports indicated that 10 civilian members of one Afghan family were also slain in the U.S. attack.

On the final full day of U.S. operations, another attack was launched on the airport as rockets fell, but the withdrawal pressed on. But McKenzie described the recent U.S. operations against ISIS-K as "very disruptive" and likely contributed to the group's inability to cause further chaos against the withdrawal.

And he credited the Taliban for its cooperation in helping to facilitate the end to the U.S. military presence.

"The Taliban have been very pragmatic and very businesslike as we approached this withdrawal," McKenzie told journalists on Monday.

He said the group that once represented a top threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan had "established a firm perimeter outside of the airfield to prevent people from coming on the airfield during our departure, and we worked out with them for a number of days."

"They did not have direct knowledge of our time of departure," McKenzie said. "We chose to keep that very information very restricted, but they were actually very helpful and useful to us as we closed down operations."

At the same time, he acknowledged that not everyone who wanted to leave was able to get out in time, including U.S. citizens.

"We think the citizens that were not brought out number in the low, very low hundreds," McKenzie said. "I believe that we're going to be able to get those people out. I think we're also going to negotiate very hard, very aggressively to get our other Afghan partners out."

"The military phase is over, but our desire to bring these people out remains as intense as it was before," he added. "The weapons have just shifted if you will, from the military realm the diplomatic realm and the Department of State will now take the lead."

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.

US, Air, Force, leaves, Kabul, Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers board a U.S. Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul on August 30. Rockets were fired at Kabul's airport on August 30 where US troops were racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuate allies under the threat of Islamic State group attacks. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images