Units of soldiers and Marines who took part in the Afghanistan non-combat evacuation in August 2021 as the war was drawing to a close will receive the highest possible award, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
U.S. troops played a critical role in evacuating 124,000 Americans and Afghan allies from Hamid Karzai International Airport amid fear and chaos as the Taliban was cementing control over Afghanistan’s capital city, including a suicide bombing that killed 13 American servicemembers. President Joe Biden has awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, reserved for “exceptional heroism” and the most distinguished decoration given to units, “in recognition of teams that operated and excelled under these difficult and dangerous conditions” two years after the war came to an end, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, and Joint Task Force 82 of the 82nd Airborne Division as well as its supporting units will receive the award, according to the statement.
The Presidential Unit Citation recognizes merit similar to that required for the Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross, which are awarded to individuals, according to Military Times.
“As we mark two years since the conclusion of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, we salute the valor, patriotism, and selflessness of the American service members and civilians who fought and served there over the course of 20 years,” Austin said.
Units supporting the 82nd Airborne included the National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 194th Armor and elements of the 10th Mountain Division, according to Military Times, although it was not clear if the soldiers in those units would also receive the award. Some Air Force units participating in the evacuation, including the National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing, have already received lower-prestige unit-level awards.
The list of units that will receive the citation is an ongoing process, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said at a briefing Thursday.
“We bow our heads today in memory of the 2,461 U.S. service members who never made it home, including the 13 courageous troops taken from us in the attack at Abbey Gate in the final hours of the war. We also remember the hundreds of service members from allied and partner countries who lost their lives during this 20-year war,” Austin said in the statement.
“And we honor the more than 20,000 Americans who were injured waging war in Afghanistan, including many who still bear wounds that are not visible,” he added.
The war officially came to an end on Aug. 31, 2021.
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