President Joe Biden has ordered thousands of U.S. troops involved in the withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan last year to receive medals honoring their service, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday. Troops involved in resettling 80,000 Afghan refugees in the U.S. will also receive medals.
A statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin provided to American Military News said Biden had directed “all units involved in the retrograde operation from Afghanistan, Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome” to be awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation “or its equivalent.”
Additionally, Austin said all units that participated in the two-week evacuation from Aug. 15, 2021 to Aug. 30, 2021 will be reviewed to “identify those units or individuals that meet the high standards of the Presidential Unit Citation or appropriate individual awards.”
The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to recognize “the extraordinary heroism of military units in action against an armed enemy.”
At least 7,000 U.S. troops were involved in the efforts to evacuate more than 124,000 Afghans and thousands of Americans from Afghanistan. The chaotic efforts were marred by Taliban threats and violence, peaking with a suicide bomb attack that killed 13 U.S. troops and 170 Afghan people.
“I hope these awards serve as a reminder to each and every Service member who wears them of the lives they helped save and the thanks of the nation and Department of Defense they serve so well,” Austin said in his statement.
Biden made the decision to award the medals after consulting with Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Austin said.
It was not immediately clear why Biden’s decision was made now more than a year after the withdrawal instead of an earlier date.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder was asked about the time it took to come to the decision. Ryder said only that the medals posed a “significant recognition for those who served in Afghanistan and participated in this very significant event,” adding that the medals are “meant to express the gratitude of the Department of the Defense and the nation.”