Afghanistan Live Updates: The United States Occupation Is Over
Twenty years after the U.S. invaded, the last military flight took off from Kabul airport. The withdrawal came after a last spasm of violence. Now the Taliban are in charge again.,
The last vestiges of the American presence in Afghanistan have departed Kabul airport, ending an occupation that resulted in a complete takeover of the country by the adversary the U.S. military spent two decades fighting, U.S. military officials said.
In recent days, American military leaders said the United States would continue evacuation efforts and fully withdraw by Aug. 31. But those efforts were wrapped up a full day early.
Evacuation flights ended on Monday, and the military finished packing everything it intended to fly out of the airport onto transport planes before loading the remaining U.S. service members onto planes for departure.
Control of the airport was left in the hands of the Taliban, who said they were still working on the shape of their new government.
A senior Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, took to Twitter and declared: “Our country has achieved a full independence, thanks to God.”
A few hundred people were waiting outside the airport perimeter on Monday evening, but were kept at a distance by Taliban fighters guarding the area. Around 1,200 people had been airlifted from Kabul in the previous 24 hours, a White House spokeswoman said early Monday morning.
But that leaves behind at least 100,000 people, by one estimate, and possibly many more who might be eligible for an expedited U.S. visa but now find themselves in an Afghanistan under the complete control of the Taliban. Many are former interpreters for the U.S. military who are in some stage of the process to receive a Special Immigrant Visa, and who fear they are at immediate risk of being killed by the Taliban.
The United States and 97 other countries have said that they will continue to take in people fleeing Afghanistan and that they have secured an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for those who plan to leave.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, said Friday that the group would not stop people from departing, no matter their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war.
Whether the Taliban will uphold that commitment, however, and when the airport might reopen for commercial flights, was uncertain.
Hours after a U.S. military drone strike in Kabul on Sunday, Defense Department officials said that it had blown up a vehicle laden with explosives, eliminating a threat to Kabul’s airport from the Islamic State Khorasan group.
But at a family home in Kabul on Monday, survivors and neighbors said the strike had killed 10 people, including seven children, an aid worker for an American charity organization and a contractor with the U.S. military.
Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for the charity organization Nutrition and Education International, was on his way home from work after dropping off colleagues on Sunday evening, according to relatives and colleagues interviewed in Kabul.
As he pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his three brothers and their families, the children, seeing his white Toyota Corolla, ran outside to greet him. Some clambered aboard in the street, others gathered around as he pulled the car into the courtyard of their home.
It was then that they say the drone struck.
At the time of the attack, the Corolla was in a narrow courtyard inside a walled family compound. Its doors were blown out, and its windows shattered.
Mr. Ahmadi and some of the children were killed inside his car; others were fatally wounded in adjacent rooms, family members said. An Afghan official confirmed that three of the dead children were transferred by ambulance from the home on Sunday.
Journalists on the scene for The New York Times were unable to independently verify the family’s account.
Mr. Ahmadi’s daughter Samia, 21, was inside when she was struck by the blast wave. “At first I thought it was the Taliban,” she said. “But the Americans themselves did it.”
Samia said she staggered outside, choking, and saw the bodies of her siblings and relatives. “I saw the whole scene,” she said. “There were burnt pieces of flesh everywhere.”
The Pentagon acknowledged the possibility that Afghan civilians had been killed in the drone strike, but suggested that any civilian deaths resulted from the detonation of explosives in the vehicle that was targeted.
“We’re not in a position to dispute it,” John F. Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman said Monday about reports on the ground of civilian casualties. He repeated earlier Pentagon statements that the military was investigating the strike on a vehicle two miles from Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“No military on the face of the earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military,” Mr. Kirby said. “We take it very, very seriously. And when we know that we have caused innocent life to be lost in the conduct of our operations, we’re transparent about it.”
Among the dead was Samia’s fiance, Ahmad Naser, 30, a former army officer and contractor with the U.S. military who had come from Herat, in western Afghanistan, in the hopes of being evacuated from Kabul.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said on Sunday that the U.S. military had carried out a drone strike against an Islamic State Khorasan vehicle planning to attack the airport. The group had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the airport on Thursday.
On Monday, Capt. Bill Urban, the spokesman, reaffirmed an earlier statement that the military hit a valid target, an explosives-laden vehicle.
Mr. Ahmadi was a technical engineer for the local office of Nutrition and Education International, an American nonprofit based in Pasadena, Calif. His neighbors and relatives insisted that the engineer and his family members, many of whom had worked for the Afghan security forces, had no connection to any terrorist group.
They provided documents related to his long employment with the American charity, as well as Mr. Naser’s application for a Special Immigrant Visa, based on his service as a guard at Camp Lawton, in Herat.
“He was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy,” Steven Kwon, the president of NEI, said of Mr. Ahmadi in an email. He wrote that Mr. Ahmadi had just recently “prepared and delivered soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul.”
Najim Rahim, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
— Matthieu Aikins
In the final hours of the American military presence in Afghanistan, hope dwindled among the Afghans seeking to escape the country via the international airport in Kabul, the focal point of the U.S. evacuation effort since the Taliban takeover of the city just over two weeks ago.
As the U.S. military races toward a Tuesday deadline to withdraw from America’s longest war, sporadic violence has been reported in the Afghan capital, underscoring the perils ahead for a country already buffeted by insecurity, a humanitarian crisis and a terrorist threat.
After days of chaos at the airport as thousands scrambled to leave the country, by Monday evening a sense of calm and resignation had descended.
A few hundred people were waiting outside the airport perimeter, but were kept at a significant distance by Taliban fighters guarding the area. A few planes — mostly C-17s, large military transport aircraft — took off and turned west into the setting sun. Around 1,200 people had been airlifted from Kabul in the previous 24 hours, a White House spokeswoman said early Monday morning.
American fighter jets and drones could be seen circling overhead. Taliban fighters said they were preparing for the possibility that the American troops would be gone by day’s end, hours before the deadline.
The U.S. military shot down rockets aimed at the Kabul airport earlier on Monday, a day after it said that one of its drones had struck a vehicle full of explosives. The U.S. has warned that more attacks like the one last week outside the airport, which killed nearly 200 people, are possible before it withdraws.
The Islamic State Khorasan, an ISIS affiliate known as ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for that bombing, which also killed U.S. troops. The group claimed responsibility for Monday’s rocket fire, too, according to The Associated Press.
Thousands of Afghans who had hoped for a way out of the country are facing the reality that they are unlikely to find one before the withdrawal ends.
One former interpreter for U.S. Special Forces, who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Mike, had approval for a Special Immigrant Visa but was unable to get into the airport. The visa program was created to offer a quick way to bring Afghan interpreters and contractors to safety in the United States, but many will be unable to fly out as part of the current evacuation.
“I’m still in Kabul, and I don’t know what to do,” Mike said in a phone interview. “Of course we are disappointed that we’re left behind. We have sacrificed a lot.”
He described the frustration of knowing that many others had left without the same documentation, and his fear of returning home to a village where everyone knows he worked for the Americans.
“We wake up in the middle of the night and think about what’s going to happen to our life and to our children,” he said.
Over the past two decades, the Afghan broadcaster Tolo has been known for provocative programs like “Burka Avenger,” in which an animated superheroine uses martial arts to vanquish villains trying to shut down a girls’ school.
Millions of Afghans have also tuned in to its racy Turkish soap operas, its popular “6 P.M. News” and the reality show “Afghan Star,” featuring female singers dancing energetically on Afghanistan’s version of “American Idol.”
Since the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15, however, Tolo’s usual lineup has been supplemented by something else: educational programming about Islamic morality. Whether its menu of pop music and female television hosts survive in the Taliban’s new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be a barometer of the insurgents’ tolerance for dissenting views and values.
“To be honest, I’m still surprised we are up and running,” said Saad Mohseni, Tolo’s co-owner, an Australian-Afghan former investment banker who started Moby Group, which owns Tolo, in 2002. “We know what the Taliban stand for.”
Keen to gain international legitimacy, the Taliban have been seeking to rebrand themselves as more moderate since they stormed Kabul, offering former rivals amnesty and urging women to join the government. They have vowed to support media freedom, on the condition that outlets subscribe to “Islamic values.” A Taliban spokesman even appeared on a Tolo news program hosted by a female anchor just days after the group captured Kabul.
But journalists and human rights advocates say there are ominous signs that a violent media clampdown is underway.
Taliban fighters hunted a journalist from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle who had already left the country, fatally shooting a member of his family and seriously injuring another, according to the broadcaster.
Ziar Khan Yaad, a Tolo journalist, and a cameraman were beaten by five Taliban fighters at gunpoint while out reporting last week.
The Taliban have also barred at least two female journalists from their jobs at the public broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan. And the woman who hosted the Taliban spokesman on a Tolo news program is no longer at the network.
She fled the country.
In the fear-filled days after the Taliban stormed into Kabul, she was hailed as the brave young woman who questioned one of the militants on live television, providing hope that Afghan women might not lose all their freedoms.
But days later, like others who feared the militants’ wrath, Behishta Arghand, a former news presenter with Tolo news, fled the country, landing with her parents and four siblings in a sparsely furnished villa in a walled compound on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar.
Ms. Arghand, 24, spoke proudly of her interview and said she hoped the Taliban would follow through on their vows to allow more openness than when they ruled the country before the United States invasion 20 years ago.
“We don’t have any government now,” she said in an interview. “We just hope they do what they promise. But now everyone is scared of the Taliban.”
Ms. Arghand recalled the shock she felt when she learned that the Taliban had entered Kabul, and the fear that gripped the Afghan capital the next day. Still, she said, she went to work to make a point about the role of women in public life.
“I wanted to show the Taliban that we want to work,” she said. “We want to be in the media. It’s our right in society.”
Ms. Arghand said she was presenting the news on Aug. 17 when she got a feeling that there was a guest in the studio. She soon realized it was Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a member of the Taliban’s media team.
She had only a few moments to prepare.
Her producers, she said, told her to try to draw out information without challenging her guest. But once on the air, she challenged him anyway, asking about reports that the Taliban had conducted house-to-house searches in the city.
After the interview, her phone was flooded with messages from friends and relatives who were both proud and terrified that she had questioned her guest so directly.
Not long after, she and her family fled, fearing that remaining in Kabul was too dangerous.
Ms. Arghand is now staying in a house with no television or internet. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be there. She doesn’t know where she’ll go next.
But she dreams of returning home someday to help women.
“If I am alive, I will do a lot for my home,” she said. “My country needs my generation.”
The suicide bomb blast that killed more than 170 people crowded outside Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport on Thursday also sundered a family gathered there, hoping to flee.
Ahmad Wali Stanekzai’s wife, Zakya, died from injuries sustained in the explosion. He couldn’t find his three children — Mina, Ahmad Faisal and Masiullah — who disappeared in the bedlam after the explosion.
Masiullah, a teenager, was dazed from the blast and called his aunt, Ferishta Stanekzai, who lives in Virginia.
“He said, ‘I don’t know about my mom, dad, brother and sister, what happened to them, but I am here alone, and there is firing, and I don’t know where I should go,'” Ms. Stanekzai said in an interview on Sunday.
Ms. Stanekzai began working the phones with the help of Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, a retired Air Force officer who has been trying to extricate several hundred Afghans in the two weeks since the Taliban captured Kabul. This account is based on interviews with Ms. Stanekzai and General Bradley, who have been in contact with Mr. Stanekzai and other relatives and neighbors.
Mr. Stanekzai’s family had traveled to the airport in Kabul in a desperate attempt to get on a flight. They had documentation from General Bradley, but no official clearance to board a plane. As they tried to navigate a path out of the country, the Islamic State Khorasan, the terrorist group’s Afghan affiliate, attacked the gate.
“Finally we contact my brother, and he says that ‘I don’t know about my two kids, but I lost my wife,'” Ms. Stanekzai said.
Mr. Stanekzai began searching the hospitals in Kabul for his missing children, and in time reunited with his oldest son. But he couldn’t find his other two children, and he and Ms. Stanekzai contacted dozens of friends and neighbors to scour the city.
In time, they learned that the children had boarded an airplane with a neighbor, Imran Ibrahim. But Mr. Stanekzai did not know the flight’s destination.
Ms. Stanekzai eventually reached Mr. Ibrahim. He and the children had landed in Germany, where the children received treatment for injuries from the Kabul blast at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, near Ramstein Air Base.
But Mr. Stanekzai and Masiullah are still in Kabul, with no way out, as President Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline fast approaches. They are just two of the tens of thousands of Afghans with connections to the United States who are desperate to escape.
General Bradley said he and family members had appealed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and retired military leaders to reach out to Mr. Biden or other officials who could help the Stanekzais secure a flight out of Kabul.
A White House staffer and an aide to Senator Warner said they were working on it, but so far a flight has not been approved, General Bradley said.
“The security situation is making things very difficult,” Rachel Cohen, Mr. Warner’s communications director, said in an email on Sunday, adding, “This is a priority for us.”
Mr. Stanekzai and his son have stayed in a home in Kabul, leaving briefly to hold an Islamic funeral for his wife.
Reaching the airport means enduring Taliban checkpoints, chaotic streets and the possibility of another terrorist attack.
“I understand how difficult it is, since we’ve already lost so many precious young American lives in this operation, but I feel that it is an obligation of our country to reunite this family,” General Bradley said in an interview on Sunday.
Ms. Stanekzai said her brother and nephew were concerned that their time was running out.
“‘What will happen if we don’t get out?'” Ms. Stanekzai said her nephew asked in a recent conversation. “‘I just want to be with my brother and sister.'”
Hundreds of students, their relatives and staff of the American University of Afghanistan gathered at a safe house on Sunday and boarded buses in what was supposed to be a final attempt at evacuation on U.S. military flights, the students said.
But after seven hours of waiting for clearance to enter the airport gates and driving around the city, the group met a dead end: Evacuations were permanently called off. The airport gates remained a security threat, and civilian evacuations were ending Monday.
“I regret to inform you that the high command at HKIA in the airport has announced there will be no more rescue flights,” said an email sent to students from the university administration on Sunday afternoon, which was shared with The New York Times.
“The scholar pilgrims who were turned away today while seeking safe passage to a better future need the help of the U.S. government, who gave them the hope they must not lose,” the American University president, Ian Bickford, said.
The email asked the 600 or so students and relatives to return home. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan must be completed by a Tuesday deadline, so the military is turning from evacuating civilians to bringing its own personnel home.
The group was then alarmed after the U.S. military, following protocol, shared a list of names and passport information of hundreds of students and their families with the Taliban fighters guarding the airport checkpoints, the university president said.
“They told us: We have given your names to the Taliban,” said Hosay, a 24-year-old sophomore studying business administration who was on the bus on Sunday. “We are all terrified. There is no evacuation, there is no getting out.”
Hosay earned a scholarship that covered half of her tuition. She wanted to get an M.B.A. and start an all-female engineering firm.
When the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15, one of the first sites they captured was the sprawling, modern American University campus. Men in traditional Afghan outfits swinging AK-47 rifles brought down the university flag and raised the flag of the Taliban, according to student and social media photos.
The Taliban posted a picture of themselves on social media standing at the entrance of a university building with an ominous message, saying this was where America had trained infidel “wolves” to corrupt the minds of Muslims.
The photograph was widely shared among Afghans and sent students and alumni into hiding. They had reason to be scared. In 2016, the Taliban attacked the campus with explosives and guns in a terrorist assault that lasted 10 hours and killed 15 people, including seven students.
The university shut down its campus on Aug. 14 as word reached administrators that the Taliban were on the outskirts of Kabul. Mr. Bickford and foreign staff left Kabul for Doha that night.
Mr. Bickford said in an interview last week that he was working with the State Department to evacuate about 1,200 students and alumni. But on Friday, after the deadly attack on the airport, Mr. Bickford said the effort had become much more complicated.
Mr. Bickford said the university was committed to ensuring all enrolled students would finish their degrees remotely.
The American University of Afghanistan opened in 2006, receiving most of its funding from the United States Agency for International Development, which gave $160 million. It was one of the U.S.A.I.D.’s largest civilian projects in Afghanistan.
Students said they had struggled emotionally over the past two weeks after they went from being college students to fugitives overnight.
Several students interviewed repeated a poetic saying in Dari: “Our hopes and dreams have turned into dust.”
Mohammad, a 31-year-old father of three and part-time government ministry worker, had three more courses left to finish his degree in business administration.
His job and salary are now gone. His degree is in jeopardy.
“It’s as if you throw a glass on a cement floor and your life shatters in a split second,” he said Sunday from a safe house.
Yasser, a 27-year-old political science student, said he had been told in an email from the university on Saturday to report to a safe location for evacuation. But after President Biden said there were security threats to the airport, the plan was scrapped and everyone was sent home.
Early Sunday morning, Yasser received another email from the university asking him to go to a safe house at 7:45 a.m. The students were told to bring only a backpack with two outfits. Videos shared with The New York Times show hundreds of students carrying backpacks and waiting on the roadside. Dozens of buses are lined up.
The chitchat among students abruptly ends, and someone gasps. Someone cries. The students have just been told that evacuations have been called off.
“It was a frightening day,” Yasser said. “We went there anticipating to be rescued and returned home defeated.”
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, urged the United States to engage with the Taliban and provide urgently needed aid to Afghanistan.
In a phone call on Sunday, Mr. Yang warned Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, that the Chinese government’s cooperation on Afghanistan would depend on the United States and its attitude toward Beijing. The Chinese foreign ministry posted an account of the call on its website.
Mr. Wang told Mr. Blinken that the Biden administration should also maintain contacts with the Taliban to prevent Afghanistan from falling deeper into chaos. Before the Taliban seized control of Kabul earlier this month, Beijing had held talks with senior Taliban officials about the future of Afghanistan, which shares a narrow border with China.
“There has been a fundamental change in domestic developments in Afghanistan, and all sides need to engage in contacts with the Taliban,” Mr. Wang said, according to the foreign ministry’s account. “The United States, in particular, must work with the international community to provide Afghanistan with economic, public welfare and humanitarian aid, assisting the new political structure in Afghanistan in maintaining normal government operations and safeguarding social stability and public security.”
So far, the Chinese government has not specified what aid and other support it may provide Afghanistan, nor any conditions it has for recognizing a new Taliban-dominated government in Kabul. But Mr. Wang suggested that Beijing’s willingness to work alongside the Biden administration on such issues was conditional on tamping down broader tensions between the two big powers.
The United States has criticized the Chinese government over its security crackdown in Hong Kong, repression of largely Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, and warnings to Taiwan, the democratically governed island that Beijing regards as a part of China.
“Recently, China and the U.S. have opened up communication over Afghanistan, climate change and other issues,” Mr. Wang said. “China will consider how to engage with the U.S. based on U.S. attitudes toward China. If the U.S. also hopes for Chinese-U.S. relations to return to a normal track, then stop persistently maligning and attacking China and harming Chinese sovereignty, security and development interests.”
As gunfire rang out in Kabul, an Afghan college graduate named Batool tried not to show her fear.
For days, she and about 150 other Afghan women — mostly students and alumni of Asian University for Women in Bangladesh — had essentially lived on a convoy of buses that they hoped would get them into the Kabul airport, the center of the U.S. military’s last-ditch evacuation efforts.
University officials and volunteers had secured them visas and chartered a plane for them, but several times, the buses failed to make it past Taliban and military checkpoints.
Fear about being in the open intensified after a deadly terrorist attack on Thursday and a night on the buses listening to gunfire outside.
“We accepted that we will either die or we will leave,” said Batool, 25. “Every single one of us wanted to follow our dreams and continue our education.”
Finally on Saturday, with university leaders and other volunteers pleading their case to American officials, 148 women passed the final checkpoint. Told to leave their luggage behind, they were allowed to bring only their phones and phone chargers.
Their passage past that checkpoint and onto a plane capped a frantic, round-the-clock campaign by a university officials and others to get the women out after the sudden collapse of Kabul to the Taliban two weeks ago.
As the Taliban advanced, school officials quickly created a masters program so alumni could obtain student visas, said a university founder, Kamal Ahmad.
To keep track of the buses at all times in the chaotic scene around the airport, the school used a geocommunications app that was also used to help evacuate an Afghan girls robotics team.
Lawyers with the firm Mayer Brown helped the effort, according to Marcia Goodman, a partner for the firm who said they had “reached out to to contacts and friends of contacts, including military on the ground and government officials at various levels.”
But they ran into issues booking a charter plane out of Kabul, and feared paying up to $450,000 for a single flight that might fail to pick the students up.
In the desperate effort to enter the airport, overwhelming fatigue was itself a threat to the evacuation plans.
When Safa, 20, and two friends separated from the group at the airport to tell their families they had made it past the checkpoints, they fell asleep from exhaustion as their phones charged in a hall.
When they woke up an hour later, they discovered to their horror that they had missed the flight. “We were not able to say anything,” Safa said. “We were not able to cry. We were just in shock what to do.”
Eventually, military officers put them on a flight to Doha, Qatar.
Safa has decided to “never sleep again,” she joked during a telephone interview.
Leaving Afghanistan brings mixed feelings, she said,
At the evacuation’s lowest moments, she felt resigned to giving up her dream of finishing her degree and working in public health.
“It was killing me inside,” she said. “Why I should give up? Why should I bury it? I deserve to be happy. I deserve my old dreams.”
Now, she said, she intends to finish her public health degree and return one day to Afghanistan, after the Taliban have left.
“I want to serve my country,” she said. “I can see my future, and I will be able to turn my dreams in reality.”
Most of the students are now in Spain, Batool said, with the next leg of their journey to the United States. They are not sure when they will make it to Bangladesh.
Safa said she felt “grateful” to the university but was worried for the family left behind.
“I saved my life,” she said, “but still I can’t say I have a good feeling.”
WASHINGTON — The United States and 97 other countries said on Sunday that they would continue to take in people fleeing Afghanistan after the American military departs this week, and that they had secured an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for those who are leaving.
The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai, had announced on Friday that the group would not stop people from departing, no matter their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war.
A joint statement released on Sunday on behalf of more than half of the world’s governments and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that they had “received assurances from the Taliban” that people with travel documents showing they were clear to enter any of those countries could safely depart.
The countries also pledged to “continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans” and cited a “clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban” to their safe passage.
“We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding,” the statement said.
Notably missing from the statement were Russia and China, two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council who have pledged to help the Taliban rebuild Afghanistan.
The statement did not warn of any consequences should the Taliban renege on the agreement, although a senior State Department official said it was meant to convey an implicit message about incentives — namely, foreign aid to the government — that the international community would use to enforce it.
The chief American envoy to Taliban peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted on Saturday that the Taliban’s assurances were “positive” and that “we, our allies and the international community will hold them to these commitments.”
Relief agencies say that tens of thousands of Afghans fear being left behind and living under Taliban rule. That includes people who have worked for the American military or the U.S. Embassy since 2001 and are eligible to immigrate to the United States.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told ABC News on Sunday that 300 Americans were still waiting to be evacuated from Kabul.
“We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan,” Mr. Blinken said.
When he was asked about the assurances from the Taliban, Mr. Blinken said that the U.S. government was not under any illusions.
“I’m not saying we should trust the Taliban on anything,” he said. “I’m simply reporting what one of their senior leaders said to the Afghan people.”
Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.
A gray C-17 transport plane landed in Delaware shortly after 8 a.m. on Sunday. It carried the remains of 11 Marines, a Navy medic and an Army staff sergeant, who collectively could be the last Americans to die in the war in Afghanistan.
Just before 8:40, a second plane, a white-and-blue Boeing jetliner, parked next to the transport. It carried the president who had given the orders to end that war after nearly 20 years, prompting the mass evacuation effort that those 13 service members were carrying out when a bomber from the Islamic State Khorasan group detonated his charges at the Kabul airport last week.
President Biden’s first trip in office to witness the transfer of remains at Dover was a reminder of the length and cost of the Afghanistan war, and of his unique attachment to it as a legislator, a vice president and now a commander in chief.
Mr. Biden made an unannounced flight to Delaware for a rare presidential appearance at a transfer of remains of service members killed overseas. They were on their way from Afghanistan, via Kuwait and Germany, to final rest in communities across the nation that have supplied sons and daughters to fight two decades of what was once called the war on terror.
The transfers began in the late morning and stretched nearly 40 minutes, finishing after noon. Time and again, service members in varying shades of green fatigues carried flag-draped transfer cases down the ramp of the transport, which faced Air Force One on the runway.
First came the Army, then the Marines, then the Navy. The carry teams, as they are called, worked in three-minute cycles, marching before a host of dignitaries including the president, the secretaries of state and defense, and several top military brass. They carried the remains from the transport and lifted them through the back cargo doors of four gray vans.
One of the last photos that Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee shared with her family from Afghanistan shows her in dusty body armor with a rifle, her long blond hair pulled back, her hands in tactical gloves. Amid the chaos of Kabul, those hands are carefully cradling a baby.
It was a moment captured on the front lines of the airport, where Marines worked feverishly to shepherd tens of thousands of evacuees through chaotic and dangerous razor wire gates. It showed how, even in the tumult, many took time to comfort the families who made it through.
In a short message posted with the photo, the sergeant said, “I love my job??.”
Sergeant Gee never made it out.
“She believed in what she was doing. She loved being a Marine,” her brother-in-law, Gabriel Fuoco, said. “She wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
Sergeant Gee, 23, of Roseville, Calif., was one of two women in uniform killed at the gate. The other was Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass. Sergeant Rosario was commended by her unit in May for excellence in a supply chief job usually given to someone of higher rank.
“Her service was not only crucial to evacuating thousands of women and children, but epitomizes what it means to be a Marine: putting herself in danger for the protection of American values so that others might enjoy them,” Marine First Lt. John Coppola said about Sergeant Rosario in a statement.
For most of military history, women were not allowed in combat. The few admitted to the Marines largely did clerical work. In 2001, at the start of the war in Afghanistan, women in the Marines were not assigned to gate duty, said Kate Germano, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.
But decades of insurgency wars fought in conservative Muslim countries forced the military to evolve.
The Marine Corps slowly, often grudgingly, opened all combat jobs to women. They now make up about 9 percent of the force. It’s still a small percentage compared with other military branches, Ms. Germano said, “but every year, more women are out front, bearing the burden more equally with men.”
The Biden administration has nearly completed a policy to govern counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional war zones, but the abrupt collapse of the Afghan government and a recent flurry of strikes in Somalia have raised new problems, according to current and former officials.
The administration has hoped to finish its playbook by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. It was envisioned as part of a broader recalibration, as President Biden seeks to wind down the “forever war” on terrorism and reorient national security policy to how the world has changed since 2001.
But his team’s ability to meet that deadline is now in doubt amid rapidly changing events and uncertainties about the future. Many of the same officials who would develop and approve an updated drone plan for Afghanistan are focused on the emergency evacuation operations in Kabul, officials said.
In January, Mr. Biden had set out to establish his own overarching policy for drone strikes targeting terrorist threats emanating from countries where the United States does not have troops on the ground. His administration viewed with suspicion President Donald J. Trump’s decision in 2017 to loosen a version of such rules that President Barack Obama had imposed in 2013.
A plane carrying 12.5 metric tons of medical supplies landed in Afghanistan on Monday afternoon, the first such shipment to arrive since the Taliban seized control of the country, the World Health Organization said in a news release.
The supplies include trauma kits and interagency emergency health kits, collections of critical medicine and equipment that the W.H.O. said could meet the basic health needs of 200,000 people, treat 6,500 trauma patients and complete 3,500 surgeries. They will be delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan.
The W.H.O. used a plane provided by the government of Pakistan, which landed at the Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, the first of three flights planned with Pakistan International Airlines.
“After days of nonstop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that — for now — W.H.O.-supported health services can continue,” Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the W.H.O.’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in the release.
Afghan people face a slew of health concerns, including the extremely contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has become all but an afterthought during the turmoil after the Taliban takeover.
“In the midst of a pandemic, we’re extremely concerned by the large displacement of people and increasing cases of diarrhea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, probable cases of Covid-19 and reproductive health complications,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said earlier this month. “There is an immediate need to ensure sustained humanitarian access and continuity of health services across the country, with a focus on ensuring women and girls have access to female health workers.”
Before Afghanistan’s government unraveled, its ministry of public health reported a third wave of coronavirus infections, with a record number of positive cases and deaths.
W.H.O. officials said in an email earlier this month that they were concerned that Covid-19 spikes exacerbated by the movement and mixing of newly displaced people, the low rate of vaccination among Afghans and the lack of medical supplies could further strain a health system struggling to keep up with trauma and emergency care.