He added: “As long as we possibly can until the clock runs out, or we run out of capability.”
About 5,000 people have been evacuated since the operation started over the weekend.
It was the first news conference by the Pentagon’s senior leadership since the extraordinary fall of Kabul over the weekend. The disintegration of the Afghan military has been deeply painful for the Pentagon, which spent 20 years and $83 billion building up Afghanistan’s security forces. But beyond that, the collapse of the Afghan government has left the Pentagon facing questions from veterans of the war and active-duty service members, who have wondered what the point of the sacrifice was.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Both Pentagon leaders tried to put some of those feelings into words. “All of this is very personal to me,” Mr. Austin said. “This is a war that I fought in and led. I know the country, I know the people, and I know those who fought alongside me.”
General Milley sought to address American service members who took part in the endeavor directly: “For more than 20 years, we have prevented an attack on the U.S. homeland,” he said, adding that 2,448 troops lost their lives and 20,722 were wounded in action, “and many others suffered the unseen wounds of war.”
Marine Corps leaders, in a letter Wednesday, also tried to reassure the corps, which has carried much of the Afghan fight, saying they “believe — without question — that your service was meaningful, powerful and important.”
General Milley also pushed back on reports in the news media that there were warnings of a rapid collapse of the Afghan military.
“I am very familiar with the intelligence, and in war nothing is ever certain, but I can tell you that there are not reports that I am aware of that predicted a security force of 300,000 would evaporate in 11 days,” he said.