President Biden warned Saturday that another terrorist attack at the Kabul airport sometime in the coming days was “highly likely,” and he promised that the U.S. retaliatory strike for Thursday’s suicide attack would not be the last.
The warning was yet another sign of the chaotic and dangerous situation as the U.S. tried to pull the last remaining Americans and Afghans out of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before the Tuesday deadline.
A suicide attack claimed by Islamic State militants that killed scores of people outside the Kabul airport this week has brought further anguish to the country and hindered evacuation efforts.
In a statement, Mr. Biden said another attack was “highly likely” in the next 24-36 hours. He added that he had directed the U.S. military to “protect our men and women on the ground.”
He also said that Friday’s retaliatory strike, which killed two ISIS militants, “was not the last.”
“We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay,” he said in a statement. “Whenever anyone seeks to harm the United States or attack our troops, we will respond. That will never be in doubt.”
Many countries were pulling their troops out of Afghanistan. France ended its efforts on Friday, and Britain’s evacuation of its citizens was ending on Saturday, Nick Carter, the chief of the defense staff, told the BBC’s Radio 4.
“We haven’t been able to bring everybody out, and that has been heartbreaking,” Gen. Carter told the BBC. “There have been some very challenging judgments that have had to be made on the ground.”
The U.S. State Department said Saturday that about 350 Americans were still awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan. Another 280 people who “self-identified” as Americans do not intend to leave or “have not informed us of their plans,” a statement said. The United States has repeatedly warned Americans to stay away from the airport because of the threat of attack.
With three days remaining before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops, the mission is shifting from airlifting people in Afghanistan to bringing home American military personnel.
On Saturday, a Pentagon official said about 6,800 people had been evacuated from the Kabul airport over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 117,000 since the operation began on Aug. 14. Evacuations were down from early Thursday, prior to the suicide attack, when White House officials said that 13,400 people had been airlifted in the previous 24 hours.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are still thought to be seeking to flee the country, yet Mr. Biden and other global leaders have acknowledged that many will not get out before the deadline.
There were signs on Saturday that the evacuation effort at the airport was slowing.
Roads leading to the airport were closed, and the large crowds that had strained in recent days to push inside had dissipated in the aftermath of the bombing, which struck as U.S. troops were screening people trying to enter.
Most gates were closed Saturday, and few people were getting through. At the airport’s South Gate, which remained open Saturday, buses carrying hundreds of people lined up, their processing slowed by the close screening for explosives.
Thursday’s attack was one of the deadliest in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion, killing 13 American service members and as many as 170 civilians.
The Pentagon said that two Islamic State militants were killed and one was wounded in Friday night’s drone strike in Nangarhar Province as part of the American retaliation for the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport that killed scores of people, including 13 American service members.
Defense Department officials said one of the Islamic State drone targets was a “planner,” and one was a “facilitator.” Both, they said, were involved in planning attacks against Americans, although officials at a news conference on Saturday declined to say whether they were involved specifically in the Kabul airport attack.
There remains a threat to American troops and civilians at the Kabul airport, officials said, making the ongoing evacuation effort perilous.
For the first time, Pentagon officials publicly acknowledged the possibility that some of the people killed in the aftermath of the suicide bombing at Kabul airport may have died in gunfire coming from American service members after the suicide bomber detonated himself.
Pentagon officials have previously said there was gunfire after the bombing, but were unsure where it emanated. Investigators are looking into whether the shots came from Americans at the gate, or from the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing.
“We can’t confirm that,” Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a news conference on Saturday. But, he added that the Defense Department was “not in position to deny it either.”
Defense Department officials declined to name the Islamic State planner and facilitator killed in the drone strike in Nangarhar, near the border with Pakistan.
“They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators and that’s enough reason there alone,” Mr. Kirby said, referring to the Islamic State Khorasan.
The strike, carried out by a single MQ-9 Reaper drone flying out of a base in the United Arab Emirates, struck in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, and killed an ISIS-K planner known to U.S. intelligence analysts for developing a specific type of attack in the Kabul area, a senior U.S. military official said later.
The planner was believed to be involved in future plots against targets in Kabul, including the airport, but there was no immediate evidence that he had plotted Thursday’s attack outside the airport.
The planner and an associate were driving in a car in Jalalabad when the drone’s Hellfire missile killed them, the official said. A third person in a building nearby was injured in the drone blast. No civilian casualties reported.
With three days to go before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal, the American troops at the Kabul airport have begun what the military is calling their “retrograde, ” meaning service members are getting on planes and leaving too.
A military official said there are now around 4,000 American troops on the ground in Kabul, down from a peak of 5,800.Mr. Kirby said American citizens and Afghan allies continue to be allowed into the airport and onto departing planes.
Maria Cramer contributed reporting.
The Department of Defense on Saturday identified the 13 members of the U.S. military who were killed in the attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday as they worked to evacuate people to safety. They hailed from across the country — from California to Wyoming to Tennessee — and had an average age of just over 22. Eleven were Marines, one was a Navy medic and another was a member of the Army.
Here is what we know about them.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City.
Staff Sergeant Hoover was a born leader, his father Darin Hoover said, who loved the United States and was on his third tour in Afghanistan. “He led his men into that, and they followed him, but I know — I know in my heart of hearts, he was out front,” Mr. Hoover said. “And they would’ve followed him through the gates of hell if that’s what it took, and, ultimately, that’s pretty much what he did.”
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.
Sergeant Rosario should be “recognized as the hero that she was,” her family told the mayor of Lawrence. Her former junior R.O.T.C. instructor recalled her as an “absolute warrior” in high school, and Marine First Lt. John Coppola said in a statement that she had been “crucial to evacuating thousands of women and children.” The Dominican Republic’s embassy in the U.S. said that she was Dominican-American.
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.
In Sergeant Gee’s most recent post on Instagram, less than a week ago, she stands next to a long line of people waiting to file into a military plane at the Kabul airport. “Escorting evacuees onto the bird,” she wrote. In another post, in which she is holding a child in Kabul, she wrote, “I love my job.” A fellow sergeant wrote on Facebook that Sergeant Gee’s car was still in the lot at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina: “I drove it around the parking lot every once in a while to make sure it would be good for when she came home.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.
Corporal Lopez’s mother told a reporter in Southern California that her son had recently carried an Afghan toddler several miles to safety, and asked people to light a candle in his honor. Corporal Lopez’s parents both work for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in California, his father as a captain and his mother as a deputy. “Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn’t a job; it was a calling,” the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association wrote in a statement.
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha.
Corporal Page grew up in Red Oak, Iowa, and in the area around Omaha, and joined the Marines after high school, his family said in a statement. He had four siblings and was a member of the Boy Scouts, played club hockey, hunted with his father and had a “soft spot in his heart for dogs,” they said. “To his younger siblings, he was their favorite jungle gym and to his friends, he was a genuinely happy guy that you could always count on,” the family said, adding that he was being mourned by his parents, stepparents, siblings, grandparents and his girlfriend.
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.
Corporal Sanchez lived in a small city about an hour and a half north of Indianapolis and had graduated from Logansport High School. The mayor of Logansport said that Corporal Sanchez “still had his entire life ahead of him” and that the young man had sacrificed himself by “putting himself into harm’s way” as part of the mission in Kabul. Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana vowed “to honor him in every way” possible. “Few among us answer a call of duty so dangerous as Corporal Sanchez volunteered to do,” he said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.
Lance Corporal Espinoza’s mother told a local television station that she had received a call at 2:30 a.m. informing her of her young son’s death. “I am proud of him because of what he did but as a mother, you know, it’s hard,” his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, told the station, KGNS-TV, as she teared up. The station reported that Lance Corporal Espinoza’s sister had just turned 13. The corporal was born in Laredo, Texas, his family said, and he had been stationed in Jordan for two years before being transferred to Kabul about a week ago. “He always knew” how much his parents loved him, Ms. Holguin said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.
Lance Corporal Schmitz, who lived in a suburb of St. Louis, had been stationed in Jordan on his first deployment before being transferred to Afghanistan for the evacuation mission about two weeks ago, his father, Mark Schmitz, told KMOX radio in St. Louis. “It’s something he always wanted to do and I’ve never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be,” Mr. Schmitz said, adding that the family was both devastated and furious. “Somebody just came along and took the easy way out and ended everything for him and for us — and for those others that were killed,” he said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.
Lance Corporal McCollum had dreamed of becoming a Marine ever since he was 3 years old, his father, Jim, said in an interview. He, too, was recently transferred from Jordan to Afghanistan, and Mr. McCollum began checking his phone for a little green dot on a messaging app that showed that his son was online — and OK. When news came that 13 Americans had died in the attack, he again checked for the dot and sent him a message with no response. “In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” Mr. McCollum said, adding that his son was “a beautiful soul.”
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Lance Corporal Merola was “one of the best kids ever,” said Cheryl Merola, his mother. He was “kind, loving” and “would give anything for anybody,” she told KCBS-TV. His grandmother told the station that Lance Corporal Merola would frequently say he wanted to come home to his family. He had been transferred to Afghanistan about a week and a half ago, and left a voice mail message with his mother saying he would not be able to talk to her for a while and that he loved her. Los Osos High School in Southern California, from which he recently graduated, held a moment of silence for him at a football game on Friday.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.
Lance Corporal Nikoui was a young martial arts champion whose father told Reuters that he had watched television nonstop for updates on the attack until he learned the devastating news from three Marines at his door. “He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war,” Steve Nikoui said. He told The Daily Beast that his son loved his Marine family and wanted to “make a career out of this,” and added that he was frustrated that President Biden had sent his and others’ children into harm’s way. “They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security,” he said.
Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.
Mr. Soviak grew up playing football in a small northern Ohio community where his death has left a “Maxton-sized hole” in his loved ones’ lives, his sister Marilyn wrote in an Instagram post. He was a Navy medic who had graduated from high school in 2017. “Everybody looked to Max in tough situations,” said Jim Hall, his high school football coach, who described Mr. Soviak as a deeply loyal friend. “He was energetic. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was a passionate kid. He didn’t hold anything back.”
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn.
Staff Sergeant Knauss was “a motivated young man who loved his country,” his grandfather Wayne Knauss told WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tenn. “He was a believer so we will see him again in heaven.” He had been in the military for five years, his grandfather said, and his stepmother told the station that he had planned to move to Washington when he returned to the United States. One of his former teachers said he had been “quiet but confident” in school and that he had written an essay that said his role models were people who stand up against power to help people. “He wrote that nine years ago as a 14-year-old boy, not knowing the man he was going to become,” Angela Hoffman, the teacher, told the station.
Jack Healy and Dave Philipps contributed reporting.
As Afghans try to move forward with their lives amid the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops, many are finding themselves confronted with another obstacle: a shortage of cash. Each day, people gather outside banks and ATMs in hopes of withdrawing money, only to later return home in despair.
On Saturday morning, scores of protesters marched through central Kabul to demand that banks that were closed following the Taliban takeover reopen.
“Islamic government, give us our rights!” they chanted.
One of the country’s largest banks, Azizi Bank, issued a statement telling customers that it was waiting for Afghanistan’s central bank to resume operations before reopening.
A representative of the central bank said that it would reopen on Sunday, but that to prevent bank runs, the process of distributing money might not begin until the new government is established.
The Taliban have indicated that Hajji Mohammad Idris, a member of the movement, will serve as acting head of the central bank. News reports suggest, however, that Mr. Idris has no formal financial training.
Despite ending its presence in Afghanistan, the United States still has control over billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank, money that Washington is making sure remains out of the reach of the Taliban.
Zar Mohammad Yousafzai applied for a job with the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan 14 years ago. The money was good, and he believed in the American mission to root out extremists there and develop their homeland.
This week, his family of nine settled into their new apartment in Houston. They are among the Afghans who, by virtue of the help they provided to American forces during the two-decade war in their country, were able to flee Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.
The family fled on Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban seized Kabul, the capital. Mr. Yousafzai and his wife, Bibi, worried for the fate of several brothers, nephews and cousins who also had worked for the Americans.
Still, after years of threats and tumult, their eventual arrival in Houston with the help of a refugee aid group has offered a respite.
“I can walk comfortably to places,” said his son Huzzaif, 11, who was kidnapped four years ago and held for ransom. “My mother doesn’t have to worry about me being stolen anymore.”
Mr. Yousafzai was attached to U.S. Army units in Kandahar, a hotbed of Taliban activity, and Zabul Province, where the Taliban had support among many villagers and reaped financial rewards from cultivating opium. He won accolades for his performance and helped three brothers, three nephews and a brother-in-law secure jobs on bases.
Working with Army engineers, he taught Afghan military personnel how to use and maintain equipment like bulldozers and backhoes. He also went on combat missions with soldiers in several provinces, and they came under fire on and off the base.
Threats against him and his family intensified. In 2015, he quit his job with the military and took a position with the government in Kabul as an audit manager. But the threats continued. His car was hit by gunfire, and Huzzaif was kidnapped.
Having sought a visa for years, Mr. Yousafzai was notified last year that he could get one, and found out in July that he could board a relocation flight to the United States.
Now the family is dealing with modern American problems. A trip to Walmart inspired admiration over American plenty but cost the family $82.43. Mr. Yousafzai is also juggling his appointments with drop-offs at three schools.
“I am having time-management challenges,” he said.
TOKYO — Two athletes who were evacuated from Afghanistan last week landed in Japan on Saturday to participate in the Paralympics.
Zakia Khudadadi, 22, will compete in taekwondo, a sport that is making its Paralympics debut, and Hossain Rasouli, 26, will run in a men’s 400-meter event.
After evacuating from Afghanistan, the athletes spent a week in Paris training at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance.
“Like all the athletes here at Tokyo 2020, we never gave up hope and to now have Zakia and Hossain in the Paralympic Village alongside 4,403 other Paralympians shows the remarkable power of sport to bring people together in peace,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in a statement.
Ms. Khudadadi, who will compete in the under-49 kilograms category in taekwondo on Thursday, will be the first woman to take part in the Paralympics for Afghanistan since the 2004 Games in Athens. Mr. Hossain had been scheduled to run on Saturday but will now run in a 400-meter event on Friday.
Before the Games opened on Tuesday, organizers said the athletes would not be able to travel to Tokyo because of the chaos following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. A volunteer for the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee carried the Afghan flag into the opening ceremonies.
Rumors of the whereabouts of the Afghan athletes had spread all through the week. As recently as Saturday morning, when asked if there was still a chance they could travel to Tokyo, the Paralympics spokesman Craig Spence said, “The door could be open, it could be closed, it could be half open.”
In a statement, the International Paralympic Committee thanked the efforts of “several Governments, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Human Rights for All, the French Paralympic Committee, the British Paralympic Association, World Taekwondo” for bringing the athletes to Japan.
In a statement, Arian Sadiqi, the head of the mission of the Afghan Paralympic Team, said: “I strongly believe that, through the Paralympic Movement and the Paralympic Games, we all can deliver the positive message that peaceful co-existence is best for humanity, that we should celebrate our differences knowing that we have more in common than that which divides us, and that we should keep and cherish peace because quarrels and negative feeling only destroy humankind.”
Relatives and other mourners gathered at a funeral for Hussein, one of the numerous Afghans killed in a suicide bombing near Kabul’s airport on Thursday.
Mujib Mashal, a New York Times correspondent who grew up in Kabul, had returned to the Afghan capital in the days before the Taliban takeover this month. Below is an excerpt from a dispatch he wrote about his observations on the end of one era and the fearful start of another.
I was a boy when the Taliban were toppled in 2001, growing up here as new life was injected into the ruins of a capital that had been deeply scarred by civil war. For years, the world felt like it was opening up to many of us.
Now, on the eve of another power change in Kabul, I was back in the city again to visit family and colleagues. And I knew — everyone here knew — that an era of hope, however uneven and misplaced, was about to end.
In the days to come, the world would fix its eyes on the latest catastrophe in this small nation, after barely noticing years of gruesome daily bloodletting. Cameras would zoom in on the stream of humanity descending on Kabul’s airport in hopes of an evacuation flight; on the blood of the dead mixing with sewage outside the airport where they’d waited, documents in hand, for rescue before terrorist bombs took as many as 170 of their lives.
But before all of that, I wanted to see our city one last time — the way it had been.
As the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan capping an ill-fated 20-year war turned uglier and deadlier in recent days, President Biden has stood by his decision but at the same time repeatedly singled out one person in particular to blame: his predecessor.
Because President Donald J. Trump struck an agreement with the Taliban last year to pull out, Mr. Biden has insisted that he had no choice but to abide by the deal he inherited or send tens of thousands of American troops back to Afghanistan to risk their lives in a “forever war.” It was, in other words, all in or all out.
But that reductionist formula has prompted a profound debate over whether the mayhem in Kabul, the capital, was in fact inevitable or the result of a failure to consider other options that might have ended in a different outcome. The unusual confluence of two presidents of rival parties sharing the same goal and same approach has led to second-guessing and finger-pointing that may play out for years to come in history books yet unwritten.
In framing the decision before him as either complete withdrawal or endless escalation, Mr. Biden has been telling the public that there was in fact no choice at all because he knew that Americans had long since grown disenchanted with the Afghanistan war and favored getting out. The fact that Mr. Trump was the one to leave behind a withdrawal agreement has enabled Mr. Biden to try to share responsibility.
Under the four-page deal signed in February 2020, Mr. Trump agreed to withdraw all American troops by May 1, 2021, lift sanctions and compel the release of 5,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government, which was cut out of the negotiations. The Taliban committed to not attacking American troops on the way out or letting terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States.
While he has suggested he had little choice because of the Trump agreement, Mr. Biden in fact was already determined to pull out of Afghanistan regardless and acknowledged in a recent interview with ABC News that “I would have tried to figure out how to withdraw those troops” even if his predecessor had not negotiated a deal with the Taliban.
Critics consider that Mr. Biden’s all-in-all-out framing is disingenuous or at the very least unimaginative, arguing that there were viable alternatives, even if not especially satisfying ones, that may not have ever led to outright victory but could have avoided the disaster now unfolding in Kabul and the provinces.
Instead, some, including the current military leadership of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that keeping a relatively modest force of 3,000 to 4,500 troops along with the extensive use of drones and close air support could have enabled Afghan security forces to continue holding off the Taliban without putting Americans at much risk.
But the White House rejected such a middle ground, contending that it amounted to more war. At her briefing on Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the only real choice was sending tens of thousands more Americans to “potentially lose their lives” or getting out.
Over a dozen countries have evacuated roughly 240,000 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban’s lightning takeover of the country.
The vast majority of people are Afghans, according to news organizations and officials from the countries involved in the evacuation efforts.
The Pentagon said on Saturday that the United States had flown 117,000 people, most of them Afghans, out of Kabul. About 350 Americans have told the State Department that they are still trying to leave. Many thousands of Afghans are also still seeking evacuation.
The British government, which ended its evacuation efforts on Saturday, said more than 14,500 Afghan and British nationals had been flown out of Kabul since Aug. 13.
“It’s time to close this phase of this operation,” Laurie Bristowe, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, said in a video posted on Twitter. “But we haven’t forgotten the people who still need to leave. We’ll continue to do everything we can to help them.”
A number of other countries — among them France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada — have helped airlift people from the country.
Two decades ago, President George W. Bush denounced the Taliban for “aiding and abetting murder” after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Now, the United States is locked in an uneasy partnership with them, relying on the Taliban to help safeguard American citizens and their Afghan allies as they race to evacuate the country.
The group is serving as America’s first line of defense at the airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital. On Thursday, rival terrorists managed to pass through Taliban checkpoints around the airport and set off a suicide bomb that killed 13 American troops and scores of Afghan civilians.
“No one trusts them,” Mr. Biden said Thursday evening, referring to the Taliban. “We’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities. And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can.”
In 2010, President Barack Obama approved talks with the Taliban in order to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was captured by the group a year before. During the Trump administration, U.S. officials sought direct peace talks with the Taliban, which took place for nearly two years.
Later, the Trump administration cut a deal with the Taliban to end America’s presence in Afghanistan by May 1, a deadline that Mr. Biden pushed back until Aug. 31.
And although the United States and the Taliban maintained the deal, their relationship remains complicated. Once the evacuation is complete, much of the regular communication with the Taliban could fall to the C.I.A.