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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says "we all have pain and anger" after 20-year war in Afghanistan

Pentagon officials discuss Afghan withdrawal
Pentagon officials discuss Afghan withdrawal 30:25

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized supporting the mental health of service members and their families as the 20-year war in Afghanistan ended. The pair held their first news conference Wednesday since the last American troops left Afghanistan.

"We all have pain and anger when we see what has unfolded over the last 20 years and the last 20 days, that creates pain and anger," Milley said. "I'm a professional soldier, I'm going to contain my pain and anger and execute my mission."

The final weeks of the mission in Afghanistan were dedicated to executing what became the largest noncombatant evacuation operation in the U.S. military's history, evacuating over 124,000 people.

The operation started chaotically because of how quickly the Taliban overran the Afghan forces and took control of Kabul, and it tragically cost the lives of 13 U.S. service members and over 170 Afghans who were killed when an ISIS-K suicide bomber detonated at one of the airport gates in Kabul.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark Milley (R) deliver remarks at the Pentagon on September 1, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia. Alex Wong / Getty Images

"Those 124,000 – they never knew the 13 who died and they will never know the 22 who were wounded or thousands of dead and thousands of wounded who came before them, but they will now live in freedom because of American blood shed on their behalf," Milley said.

The mission in Afghanistan will now turn to a diplomatic one, according to Austin, who said the Department of State is working to evacuate U.S. citizens and Special Immigrant Visa applicants.

Both Austin and Milley said there will be lessons to learn from the war in Afghanistan and especially the evacuation mission that started off chaotic and while evacuating many, still left others behind.

Austin said one aspect that will be looked at is the Special Immigrant Visa process. He said the mission of the U.S. military did not coincide with the slow process of applying for an SIV.

"The SIV program is obviously not designed to accommodate what we just did - in evacuating over 124,000 so perhaps this program should be looked at," Austin said.

The U.S.' involvement in the war that killed 2,461 Americans and wounded over 20,000 more came to an end Monday as the last plane left the airport in Kabul at 3:29 p.m. ET or 11:59 p.m. local time.

Over the past few weeks as the United States watched the Taliban sweep through Afghanistan, civilian and military leaders in the Department of Defense have offered words of support to veterans.

During the press conference Wednesday, Austin urged service members who need help to seek it.

"Mental health is health. Period," Austin said.

Milley ended his opening remarks with a note to the over 800,000 who have served in Afghanistan.

"One thing I'm certain of - for any soldier, sailor, airman, or marine and their family, your service mattered and it was not in vain," Milley said.

Biden faces criticism of Afghan withdrawal 08:50
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