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Home World Death Toll Exceeds 170 in Kabul; U.S. Officials Warn That Danger Remains

Death Toll Exceeds 170 in Kabul; U.S. Officials Warn That Danger Remains

Victims of the attacks at Kabul’s airport arriving at a hospital on Thursday. 
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

The reported toll of the bombing outside Kabul’s airport rose sharply on Friday, with local health officials saying that as many as 170 people were killed and at least 200 were wounded. Yet less than a day after the attack, crowds on Friday sought once again to reach the airport, their desperation to flee the Taliban blending with grief at the enormous scale of the violence.

Health officials’ estimate of the number of bombing victims, which did not include the 13 U.S. service members killed and 15 wounded, was supported by interviews with hospital officials. The hospital officials, who requested anonymity because the Taliban had told them not to speak with the media, said some of the dead civilians were Afghan Americans, with U.S. citizenship.

The revised estimates made Thursday’s attack one of the deadliest in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion. American officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

At the airport and in the streets, the U.S. military and the Taliban tried to exert what authority they could. Militants with Kalashnikov rifles kept crowds farther away from the airport’s entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee parked in the roads. The American military resumed evacuation flights, and the White House said early Friday that 12,500 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in the previous 24 hours, despite the attacks.

The waiting crowds, many standing by buses with bags at their sides, numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands of previous days. An estimated hundreds of thousands remain in the country who are desperate for escape from the Taliban rule of Afghanistan, but very few appeared to be getting to the airport gates on Friday.

The airport itself appeared to be largely, if not entirely, locked down. At the airport’s southern and eastern gates, Taliban guards told a reporter that no one was allowed to go near the airport and that all entrance gates were closed. About 5,400 people remained inside waiting evacuation, the Pentagon said Friday.

The grisly scenes on Thursday, when children were among those killed in the crowds, illustrated the intense danger for those braving the high-risk journey to the airport.

On Friday, the U.S. military revised its account of what happened at the airport a day earlier, with Maj. Gen. William Taylor of the Joint Staff saying, “we do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber.” But many witnesses reported hearing two blasts.

With four days remaining until an Aug. 31 deadline for the United States withdrawal, a date that President Biden has said he intends to keep despite domestic and international pressure to extend the evacuation operations, Afghans are scrambling to find a way out of the country.

The task is becoming increasingly difficult.

Mr. Biden vowed retribution against ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of its loyalists in Afghanistan. But there was little information on how the attacks would affect the immediate rescue operations, which had picked up speed in recent days but were still on pace to fall well short of providing an exit for everyone who wants to leave.

A man who identified himself as Mohammad, from Khost, said that he had hoped to fly out on Friday but that he felt “stuck.” He was unable to get into the airport, and said the Taliban had been looking for former soldiers and media workers.

“I don’t feel safe here anymore,” he said.

General Taylor said some 111,000 people — American citizens, Afghan allies and foreign nationals — have been evacuated from the country since Kabul fell to the Taliban this month.

Members of the Taliban at a checkpoint last week in Kabul.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Taliban fighters have continued to search for officials of Afghanistan’s former government, causing fear among Kabul residents, even after the group declared a general amnesty for those once in power when they entered the capital nearly two weeks ago, former officials say.

“This is the eighth time that the Taliban came to my home in Kabul, searched for me and have taken my private vehicle, and directly threatened my children,” Halim Fidai, a former official who served as an adviser to the president and as a governor of eastern Khost Province, said on Twitter on Thursday.

Fearing retribution from the Taliban, thousands of employees of the collapsed Afghan government, interpreters for U.S. and NATO forces, civil society activists and journalists have flooded Kabul’s airport in recent days along with their families in a desperate attempt to flee the country. Tens of thousands have been evacuated by the U.S. and other Western countries, but the area around the airport has grown increasingly perilous, with a terrorist attack on Thursday killing dozens.

Ahmadullah Waseq, the deputy of Taliban’s culture committee, rejected reports that the Taliban had conducted house-to-house searches in Kabul. He said the “allegation” made by Mr. Fidai would be investigated.

Mr. Waseq noted that Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s reclusive leader, had ordered a general amnesty. “We assure all members of security forces and former officials to stay in their homeland and that they are safe in their houses,” he said.

He said that criminals, introducing themselves as Taliban members, had carried out searches and armed robberies, and that some of them had been detained by the Taliban.

People on the ground tell a different story.

Bismillah Taban, the head of the Interior Ministry’s police criminal investigation unit under President Ashraf Ghani, said his assistant had handed over all of the equipment and weapons he had in his possession to the Taliban a day after they entered Kabul.

But the Taliban are still looking for him.

“The Taliban detained my former aide in Kabul, held him for five hours, tortured him to force him reveal my hiding place,” he said in a phone call from an undisclosed location. “I don’t believe their promise of general amnesty. They killed one of my colleagues after they took over the government. They will kill me, too, if they find me.”

Despite the Taliban’s efforts to reassure Afghans that the group has evolved and will not rule with the violence that marked its time in power in the 1990s, former government officials and people who worked with the United States and NATO allies are still worried. Many have either been living in hiding or trying to flee the country.

There have also been reports of attacks by the Taliban on journalists, including one on Monday in which Tolo News journalists and administrators described how the Taliban beat one of the channel’s reporters in Kabul.

Mr. Waseq said that the fighter who had beat the journalist was identified and that a criminal case had been opened against him. “He will soon face trial,” he said.

Rylee McCollum, a U.S. Marine, was killed in the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Thursday.
Credit…via the McCollum Family

After Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, landed in Afghanistan with his Marine unit, his father, Jim, began checking his phone for a little green dot. Mr. McCollum had not been able to talk with his son, but the green dot next to Rylee’s name on a messaging app meant that he was online. That he was still OK.

After a suicide bomber killed 13 American service members outside the airport in Kabul on Thursday, Mr. McCollum checked again for the dot. His son was on his first overseas deployment, had gotten married recently, and was about to become a father. Mr. McCollum messaged his son: “Hey man, you good?”

But the green dot was gone.

“In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” Mr. McCollum said.

On Friday, Lance Corporal McCollum became one of the first American victims to be publicly identified in the attack that also killed at least 170 Afghans. It was the highest U.S. death toll in a single incident in Afghanistan in 10 years. His death was confirmed by his father and by the governor of Wyoming, Mark Gordon.

While the Department of Defense has not released an official accounting of the victims, their names began to emerge. They appeared in social media posts from family and friends and somber announcements from the high schools where the young men had played football or wrestled just a few years earlier.

Some of them, like Lance Corporal McCollum, who was born in February 2001, were still babies when the United States invaded Afghanistan. Others were not yet born. Now, they are among the last casualties of America’s longest war.

Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Lance Corporal McCollum’s unit had deployed from Jordan to Afghanistan to provide security and help with evacuations, his father said in a phone interview on Friday. He had been guarding a checkpoint when the explosion tore through the main gate where thousands of civilians have been clamoring to escape the country’s new Taliban rulers.

“He was a beautiful soul,” Mr. McCollum said from his home in Wyoming.

Mr. McCollum’s fears for his son’s fate were confirmed when two Marines knocked on the door of the family’s home at 3:30 a.m. to deliver the news. Mr. McCollum said becoming a Marine had been his son’s dream ever since he was 3 years old.

That night other families in communities large and small were getting the same grim news.

In one small northern Ohio community where Maxton Soviak grew up playing football, his death left a “Maxton-sized hole” in the lives of the people who loved him, his sister Marilyn wrote in an Instagram post.

Mr. Soviak served as a Navy medic when he was killed, according to a statement from the Edison Local School District announcing his death. Mr. Soviak graduated from Edison High School in 2017, the district said.

“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.”

Mr. Soviak’s social-media profile showed an exuberant young man charging into the world — diving off a rocky precipice, rock-climbing, hiking the Grand Canyon. “If the world was coming to an end, I don’t wanna close my eyes without feeling like I lived,” he wrote in one post.

On Friday, Mr. Hall’s phone rang with people calling to mourn and share memories, and one image of Mr. Soviak kept returning to Mr. Hall’s mind. It was from a snowy regional playoff game a few years ago in which Mr. Soviak helped make a last-second quarterback sack to win the game.

Mr. Hall remembered watching Mr. Soviak celebrate on the field, exultant, snow swirling around him.

At least two of the slain service members were from California. They were identified by local law enforcement and a U.S. congressman as Hunter Lopez, 22, a Marine who is the son of two officers of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and Marine Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, a young martial arts champion from Norco, according to his social media accounts.

Credit…Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, via Facebook

On Friday, Kareem Nikoui’s mother, Shana Chappell, posted a photo on her Instagram account of her son with a broad smile, cradling his rifle amid the crowds of civilians and razor wire at the gate of the airport in Kabul. “This is the last picture my son sent me of himself. It was taken on Sunday. I know i am still in shock right now. I felt my soul leave my body as i was screaming that it can’t be true! No mother, no parent should ever have to hear that their child is gone,” she wrote in the post.

Some of the dead were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. On Thursday evening, as many families were being notified, the Marine base held a candlelight vigil.

Corporal McCollum loved the mountains where he grew up but could not wait to join the Marines, his father said. Since he was a boy, he could not stand injustice and would stand up for bullied classmates. So on his 18th birthday, he called his father from his school in Jackson Hole to ask him to come sign his enlistment papers.

“He wanted to get in there as quickly as he could,” Mr. McCollum said.

Mr. McCollum said his son had been deeply patriotic and had, from a young age, loved going to July 4 and Memorial Day parades and learning about the ceremonies surrounding the American flag. He was a successful wrestler who graduated from Jackson Hole High School in 2019, school officials said.

“He’s the most patriotic kid you could find,” Mr. McCollum said. “Loved America, loved the military. Tough as nails with a heart of gold.”

Credit…Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Regi Stone, a pastor whose son, Eli, was one of Corporal McCollum’s best friends, described him as fiercely devoted. The two young men always had each other’s backs, he said, whether it was at bonfire parties in the Wyoming woods or in their decision to enlist in the Marines at about the same time.

“He wouldn’t back down from anything,” Mr. Stone said.

Mr. McCollum said it was wrenching to watch the chaos unfolding in Afghanistan after so many years of American military occupation and so many deaths.

“It kills me and pains me that we spent 20 years there, and all the lives that were lost there, including my son’s. And we’re back to square one,” he said.

He said he found some comfort in the fact that his son had died helping people — “doing good things,” as Corporal McCollum put it.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” his father said. “He’s a hero.”

Sheelagh McNeill and Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.

A gunshot victim being transported to the Emergency NGO hospital in Kabul on Friday. 
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The bombing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday brought an almost unmanageable flood of victims to the Emergency N.G.O. Hospital in Kabul.

“Last night was a disaster,” Alberto Zanin, the hospital’s medical coordinator, said in an interview with The New York Times on Friday. “We are not used to casualty numbers this high. Our hospital is over capacity at the moment. We had to add extra beds.”

The hospital received 62 victims from the attack, he said, 14 of whom were dead on arrival. Two others died almost immediately after arrival and four more died overnight. Thirty-four patients were admitted for treatment, and the situation was exacerbated by casualties from another explosion in Kote Sangi, a densely populated neighborhood southwest of the airport.

“One fatality came in, and one of the nurses working at the tent by the entrance, the first patient reception, realized it was a relative of his,” Dr. Zanin said. “When that happened, there was a lot of panic, screaming. It was difficult to manage that.”

Dr. Zanin said this was the worst attack he had experienced in the roughly four years he had worked at the hospital in Kabul.

“A lot of them had head injuries,” he said of the victims. “There was also something about the state of the people that arrived. They seemed shocked. Everyone was completely absent, not listening, not able to respond.”

In the face of the catastrophe, the hospital’s staff and members of the community came together. Many employees had gone home for the night when the attack happened, but returned to the hospital without having to be asked, Dr. Zanin said. The last surgery of the night was performed at 5 a.m. on Friday.

“A lot of people came to our gate to inquire about relatives. There was a lot of chaos,” he said. “But there were also signs of humanity, of community. Many came to donate blood. We had Taliban coming to donate blood.”

One of the wounded was Asadullah Hossaini, 31, a medical doctor who had been standing near the U.S. Marines who were killed when the explosion went off.

Mr. Hossaini said that he and his family — 15 people total — had fled about 90 miles west to Behsud, where they are from, when the Taliban entered Kabul. They are Hazaras, an ethnic group that was brutally oppressed when the Taliban were in power a generation ago.

But when a cousin called to say he had an American visa and could get the family into the airport, they returned.

“I had a passport and my cousin had a U.S. visa,” he said. “He wanted to transfer us to America because the situation here has become unacceptable to us. I saw on Facebook that Taliban fighters request young women to marry them. This is unacceptable. We have many young women in our family.”

The family went to the airport on Wednesday but had to spend the night outside because the crowd was impenetrable, Mr. Hossaini said. On Thursday, they made their way closer to the airport gate. Even before the explosion, he said, people were packed together so tightly that a woman died from suffocation.

“I saw her die with my own eyes,” he said.

When the bomb went off, he was knocked unconscious. Two people put him in a wheelbarrow and pushed him to the main airport gate, from which a car took him to the hospital. He underwent surgery on his leg and back.

“I don’t know what happened to my family,” he said. “I know my wife and my daughter are outside the hospital. But I don’t know what happened to the rest of them.”

Afghan refugees enter Pakistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on Wednesday.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Pakistan has insisted that it will not accept any more refugees from Afghanistan. The refugees are coming anyway.

Thousands of people have been streaming into Pakistan through a major southwestern border crossing since the Taliban took over Kabul two weeks ago. While the evacuations from Kabul airport have drawn global attention, large numbers of people trying to flee the country have been gathering daily near Spin Boldak-Chaman, the only designated — and open — border crossing for refugees.

About 4,000 to 8,000 people crossed the border there in normal times. Since the Taliban seized Kabul, the number of Afghans entering Pakistan has jumped threefold, according to Pakistani officials and tribal leaders. They fear that the attacks at Kabul’s airport will spur even more people to use the border crossing instead.

Other border crossings, like the one at Torkham, a site roughly 140 miles east of Kabul, have been closed. That leaves the southern crossing of Spin Boldak, which is roughly 70 miles southeast of Kandahar.

One resident of Parwan Province north of Kabul, surnamed Ali, traveled with his family through Spin Boldak. They arrived at the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Monday.

“The uncertainty and unemployment in Afghanistan have been forcing us to leave the country,” Mr. Ali said.

No official statistics about how many people recently entered Pakistan are available. An official at a ministry overseeing the flow of refugees said that the Pakistan government is allowing only Pakistani citizens, Afghan patients seeking medical treatment and people with proof of a right to refuge.

Pakistan has long had a complicated relationship with Afghanistan and their shared, porous border. The Taliban have long crossed back and forth, for example. But the Pakistan government has increasing worried about refugees pouring into the country from its troubled western neighbor.

In recent years it built up a fence 1,600 miles long with Afghanistan mainly to regularize cross-border movement. It designated specific point, like Spin Boldak, where crossings were allowed.

Photos and videos of crowds at the Spin Boldak border crossing have circulated in recent days. But crowds were already a daily phenomenon, said the government official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media. On a daily basis, the official said, people gather to cross for work, trade, medical treatment or to visit family on the other side of the border.

Rising refugees may force the Pakistan government to take further action. Officials have said repeatedly said that they would not allow any new refugees to enter Pakistan’s cities. The government is instead planning on establishing refugee camps near the border inside Afghanistan’s territory.

Officially, about 1.4 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, making it one of the largest refugee populations in the world. A spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Council said as many as another one million may live there too.

The coffin of Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter was carried to a waiting car at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver in August 2011. He was among the 30 servicemen who died when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.
Credit…Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post, via Associated Press

Just three months after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. military endured its biggest single-day loss of life during its two-decade war in Afghanistan. On Aug. 6, 2011, insurgents shot down a transport helicopter, killing 30 Americans and eight Afghans.

The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack, had found an elite target: U.S. officials said that 22 of the dead were Navy Seal commandos, including members of Seal Team 6. Other commandos from that team had conducted the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Bin Laden in May of that year.

The helicopter, on a night-raid mission in the Tangi Valley of Wardak Province, to the west of Kabul, was most likely brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade, an official said then. It was the second helicopter to be shot down by insurgents within two weeks.

The deadly attack, which came during a surge of violence that accompanied the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, showed how deeply entrenched the insurgency remained even far from its main strongholds in southern Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the east.

The Tangi Valley traverses the border between Wardak and Logar Province, an area where security worsened over the years and brought the insurgency closer to the capital, Kabul. It was one of several inaccessible areas that became havens for insurgents.

President Barack Obama offered his condolences at the time to the families of the Americans and Afghans who died in the attack. “Their death is a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice made by the men and women of our military and their families,” he said.

President Biden echoed Mr. Obama’s words after an attack by Islamic State Khorasan killed 13 U.S. service members.

“The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security and the service of others,” Mr. Biden said.







‘We Will Hunt You Down,’ Biden Vows After Kabul Explosions

President Biden condemned a terrorist attack near the Kabul airport that killed scores of people, including at least 13 American service members, pledging to retaliate against the attackers and continue evacuations.

To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. These American service members who gave their lives — that’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate here — were heroes. Heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others. They’re a part of an airlift and evacuation effort, unlike any seen in history. We will not be deterred by terrorists. We’ll not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation. I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing. Here’s what you need to know: These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans in there. We will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.

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President Biden condemned a terrorist attack near the Kabul airport that killed scores of people, including at least 13 American service members, pledging to retaliate against the attackers and continue evacuations.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden’s decision to end America’s longest war was driven, he had said repeatedly, by his determination not to sacrifice even one more member of the military on behalf of an effort that he had long believed was no longer in the interests of the United States.

But on Thursday, the withdrawal from Afghanistan claimed the lives of 13 U.S. troops, along with scores of Afghan civilians — the first American casualties there in 18 months and the deadliest day there for the U.S. military since 2011.

In searing remarks from the East Room of the White House, Mr. Biden pledged to “hunt down” the terrorists who claimed credit for the bombing.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive,” Mr. Biden said, using language that had grim echoes of warnings President George W. Bush made after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

America’s tumultuous exit from Afghanistan has dragged down Mr. Biden’s approval ratings, and the bombing on Thursday will surely open him up to political criticism. But it is unclear what the damage will be to his presidency in the long term, as he exits a war that most Americans want out of as well.

A lemonade seller in a market in Kabul last week.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Omar Zakhilwal, a former Afghan finance minister, continues to walk to his office in downtown Kabul every day, even as he is meeting with Taliban officials, trying to nudge them toward what he calls a more “inclusive” government.

Both exercises are proving to be challenges. On his daily walk in the normally bustling and noisy Shar-e Naw neighborhood, once alive with street vendors and jostling pedestrians, there is now an unsettling silence. And so far his encounters with the Taliban have not yielded the results he is hoping for.

“It’s awfully quiet,” he said in a phone interview from Kabul on Friday. “It’s really calm. You don’t see many women out there. Not even close to the usual number. And the market looks depressed. You don’t see people shopping. There are the juice sellers in Shar-e Naw, but not many people drinking juice.”

“We’re in a very depressed economic situation,” said Dr. Zakhilwal, an economist who was sharply critical of the government of President Ashraf Ghani in the days before it fell.

So far, the worst fears about the Taliban appear not to have been realized, Dr. Zakhilwal said. “By and large, their treatment of the population is not as bad as expected,” he said. “They are not very visible. You don’t see a heavy presence of them in the city.”

But “the mental security is not there,” he said.

Along with other Afghan officials from previous governments, he has been meeting with Taliban representatives. One of the officials is his old boss, former President Hamid Karzai. All are hoping the Taliban will include former officials in their government. The signs so far are not encouraging.

“Now that they have taken the whole thing, there might be temptations within them not to go for the type of inclusive government that would be the result of a political settlement,” Dr. Zakhilwal said.

A few appointments so far suggest that the Taliban are more interested in appointing from within their ranks than naming “professionals,” he said, noting the Taliban’s choice for acting head of the central bank: Haji Mohammad Idris, a member of the movement. News reports have indicated that Mr. Idris has no formal financial training.

“They haven’t shown inclusivity in these temporary appointments,” Dr. Zakhilwal said.

A C-17 military transport plane taking off from the international airport in Kabul.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Afghan parents of a baby born on a C-17 aircraft evacuating passengers to Germany named their daughter after the aircraft’s call sign, a senior U.S. general said this week.

“They named the little girl Reach, and they did so because the call sign of the C-17 aircraft that flew them from Qatar to Ramstein was Reach,” Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. European Command, said in a Pentagon news conference on Wednesday.

The Afghan mother, who has not been named, went into labor and began experiencing complications on a flight leaving a base in Qatar for Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said on Twitter.

In response, the C-17 — identified as Reach 828 in radio transmission — descended in altitude to increase air pressure inside the aircraft, “which helped stabilize and save the mother’s life,” the Air Force said.

After the plane landed, medics boarded and helped deliver the baby in the cargo bay. A group of women had protected the mother’s privacy with their shawls, Capt. Erin Brymer, a nurse who helped deliver the child, told CNN.

By the time they reached her, the woman had been “past the point of no return,” she said. “That baby was going to be delivered before we could possibly transfer her to another facility.”

Pictures released by the U.S. Air Force showed the woman being transported, shortly after her daughter’s birth, from the aircraft to a nearby medical facility.

General Wolters said the baby was one of three — all in good condition — born to women who boarded evacuation flights out of Afghanistan. Two others were delivered at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a military hospital in southern Germany.

“It’s my dream to watch that young child, called Reach, grow up and be a U.S. citizen and fly United States Air Force fighters in our air force,” General Wolters told reporters.

People arriving at a Kabul hospital for treatment on Thursday after the attack near the airport.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan hardly assures that all militants in the country are under their control.

To the contrary, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan — known as Islamic State Khorasan or ISIS-K — is a bitter, albeit much smaller, rival that has carried out dozens of attacks in Afghanistan this year against civilians, officials and the Taliban themselves.

In recent months as U.S. forces have been departing, about 8,000 to 10,000 jihadi fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in western China have poured into Afghanistan, a United Nations report concluded in June.

Most are associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, which are closely linked, but others are allied with ISIS-K, presenting a major challenge to the stability and security that the Taliban promise to provide.

While terrorism experts doubt that ISIS fighters in Afghanistan have the capacity to mount large-scale attacks against the West, many say that the Islamic State is now more dangerous, in more parts of the world, than Al Qaeda.

Created six years ago by disaffected Pakistani Taliban fighters, ISIS-K has vastly increased the pace of its attacks this year, the U.N. report said.

The group’s ranks had fallen to about 1,500 to 2,000 fighters — about half that of its peak in 2016 before U.S. airstrikes and Afghan commando raids took a toll, killing many of its leaders.

But since June 2020, the group has been led by an ambitious commander, Shahab al-Muhajir, who is trying to recruit disaffected Taliban fighters and other militants. ISIS-K “remains active and dangerous,” the U.N. report said.

The Islamic State in Afghanistan has mostly been antagonistic toward the Taliban. At times the two groups have fought for turf, particularly in eastern Afghanistan, and ISIS recently denounced the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Some analysts say that fighters from Taliban networks have even defected to join ISIS in Afghanistan, adding more experienced fighters to its ranks.

In general, Al Qaeda did not maintain the same operational control over its affiliates as the Islamic State did, which may have given the latter an advantage, said Hassan Hassan, the co-author of a book about the Islamic State and the editor in chief of Newlines Magazine.

For Al Qaeda, “it’s like opening a Domino’s franchise and you send someone out for quality control,” he said. The Islamic State, on the other hand, would “take it one step further and appoint a manager from the original organization.”

Displaced Afghan families receiving food distributed by the World Food Program in Kandahar last year.
Credit…M Sadiq/EPA, via Shutterstock

Humanitarian organizations, which provide vital aid for millions in Afghanistan, are finding alternative routes to ensure the continued delivery of supplies to a country in crisis.

Desperate to keep channels into the country open, some have looked to alternatives to Kabul’s airport, where the deadly attack on Thursday and ongoing evacuations have hampered deliveries.

The World Health Organization is working with Pakistan to enable an airlift of medical supplies to the northern Afghan city Mazar-i-Sharif. The hope is to bypass the security and logistics challenges that have prevented deliveries to Kabul’s airport.

Most of Afghanistan’s 2,200 health facilities are functioning, said Richard Brennan, the W.H.O.’s regional emergencies director. But stocks of trauma kits to treat wounded people and of other medical supplies have dwindled to a few days’ supply.

“Kabul airport is not an option for bringing in humanitarian supplies at this stage,” he told reporters by video link from Cairo on Friday. “So we are likely to use Mazar-i-Sharif airport, with our first flight going in the next few days.”

Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority is not functioning, but Pakistan International Airlines is working with colleagues in Mazar-i-Sharif to ensure that cargo aircraft can land. The W.H.O. expected to bring in 20 to 30 tons of supplies on each flight, he noted.

Another challenge has arisen, however. In the hours after the terrorist attack outside Kabul’s airport, insurance costs for bringing a plane into Afghanistan have “skyrocketed to prices we have never seen before,” Mr. Brennan said, although he said he expected that problem to be resolved and aircraft dispatched in the next two to three days.

The World Food Program also expects to start an emergency airlift of food supplies to Afghanistan in the coming days, Mr. Brennan said. It warned this week that it could run out of supplies by September as it copes with the new reality of need on the ground.

“Humanitarian catastrophe awaits the people of Afghanistan this winter unless the global community makes their lives a priority,” Anthea Webb, the organization’s regional deputy director for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.

At this time of year, the program is typically positioning food stocks in warehouses across Afghanistan so that they can later be distributed when winter snows make some roads impassable.

Now, Ms. Webb said, limited funding and increased need mean that some supplies could run out.

Buying Taliban flags outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Just days after the Taliban took Kabul, their flag was flying high above a central mosque in Pakistan’s capital. It was an in-your-face gesture intended to spite the defeated Americans — and a sign of the real victors in the 20-year Afghan war.

Pakistan was ostensibly America’s partner in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But it was a relationship rived by duplicity and divided interests from its very start after 9/11. Pakistan’s intelligence service nurtured and protected Taliban assets inside Pakistan through the course of the war.

Already Pakistan, along with Russia and China, is helping fill the space the Americans have vacated. The embassies of the three nations have remained open since the Taliban seized Kabul.

But Robert L. Grenier, a former C.I.A. station chief in Pakistan, said that Pakistan should be careful what it wished for.

“If the Afghan Taliban become leaders of a pariah state, which is likely, Pakistan will find itself tethered to them,” he said.

A Taliban-run state on its border will no doubt embolden Taliban and other Islamist militants in Pakistan itself. And aside from maintaining the stability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the Americans now have less incentive to deal with Pakistan.

So the question for Pakistan is: What will it do with the broken country that is its prize?

A group of migrants from Afghanistan near Bialystok, Poland, close to the border with Belarus.
Credit…Wojtek Radwanski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — About 37 Afghan asylum seekers who left their country before the Taliban takeover this month have been stuck at the border between Belarus and Poland for two weeks without easy access to food, water or toilets, highlighting the European Union’s struggle with migration.

With Poland’s governing Law and Justice party advertising its toughness on migrants, the government has sent troops to the area while building a variety of border fences. Belarus, which initially granted the asylum seekers visas, won’t let them return from the border.

Various opposition politicians in Poland, some of whom have visited the migrants, have criticized the inhumanity of the government’s position while trying to avoid appearing to favor a policy of open borders.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday called on Poland to abide by its international obligations.

But as European Union member states worry about a new flow of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, they are accusing Belarus, which is not a member, of weaponizing migrants to destabilize the bloc by encouraging them to cross the border.

Critics of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus say he has done the same thing on the borders of Lithuania and Latvia, apparently to retaliate against the European Union for its increasingly harsh sanctions against him and his government over fraudulent elections and a fierce crackdown on the opposition.

Belarus has denied that it is using migrants as a weapon against the European Union.

Sayed, right, was reunited with his wife, Kebria, and 6-month-old son, Mustafa, after they were released from the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va., following their evacuation from Afghanistan.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Hours after the deadly explosion outside the Kabul airport on Thursday, people were gathered at another airport back in the United States, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their loved ones from Afghanistan.

Many expressed grief over the attack, which killed at least 13 U.S. service members and scores more, and wondered what would happen to their relatives trapped in Afghanistan.

Baryalai, 31, drove six hours from Brooklyn to Northern Virginia to help a friend pick up his wife and three children at Dulles International Airport. The two men arrived at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday and were still waiting for the family to be released from the processing center at 2 p.m.

Baryalai said he was “heartbroken” over the bombing and worried about his mother and brother, who are stuck in Afghanistan.

“They are home. I cannot send them to the airport because it’s so bad,” he said. “I cannot take the risk.”

Joe, a 35-year-old hospitality worker who lives in Prince William County, Va., arrived at Dulles on Wednesday morning to pick up his wife and two daughters, who were returning from a visiting to Afghanistan for a wedding that was scheduled for Aug. 15, the day the Taliban took control of Kabul.

He was still waiting on Thursday evening after spending the night sitting in a cafe and wandering around the airport. Although they had landed the day before at 4:30 p.m., they were not able to get off the tarmac until 8 a.m. on Thursday.

Joe said that the attack was devastating but that he was not surprised it had occurred.

“The writing was on the wall,” he said. “They’ve pretty much been announcing it, that threats have been active and present.”

Holding a bouquet of roses and two balloons, Joe said that he was relieved to get his wife and children out before the attack, but that he was worried about his wife’s two sisters, who had not yet decided whether to risk their lives trying to get into the airport.

“They still haven’t left the house,” he said. “They’re ready to leave, but they can’t.”

Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, who retired from the military in 2008, and his wife, Jan, at a displaced persons camp in Kabul in March 2010.
Credit…Mahboob Shah

Since the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15, Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, a retired Air Force officer, and his wife, Jan, have spent nearly every waking moment submitting reams of paperwork to various government agencies to help about 500 Afghans trying to evacuate the country.

So far, only one family they have helped has made it out.

“Nothing is working,” Ms. Bradley said on Thursday. “It’s a broken system, and it’s heartbreaking.”

The couple’s frustrations reflect the broader challenges facing those who once helped Americans and those who are now in turn trying to help those people. With President Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline fast approaching, many Afghans are desperate to get out.

In 2008 the Bradleys founded the Lamia Afghan Foundation, a nonprofit group, to help people in Afghanistan. Necessity has turned it into an impromptu refugee resettlement organization.

General Bradley served in the Air Force for more than four decades before he started the foundation, which he said had built seven schools for girls and distributed 3.5 million pounds of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. The foundation is named for a young woman whom General Bradley met near Bagram Air Base while he was still in the service.

“I think she’s under threat because her name’s on our foundation,” General Bradley said.

Lamia’s family is still in Afghanistan and is one of many that the Bradleys are trying to help.

That is never easy on the best of days, and Thursday was not the best of days, especially in Kabul.

In the morning, General Bradley got a phone call from a young Afghan American woman in Virginia whose family had been working with the foundation. She told him her brother had gone to the Kabul airport with his wife and three children that day to try to secure a flight out of the country, even though they had not yet been approved for one.

The Bradleys had submitted paperwork to the Defense Department to request a noncombatant evacuation for the family. They also provided the young Afghan man with copies of General Bradley’s redacted passport and driver’s license, as well as a letter on his military letterhead to present to guards at the airport.

On Thursday, the whole family was standing near the Abbey Gate, a main entry to the international airport, when an explosion tore through the crowd. Dozens were killed and many more wounded in the terrorist attack.

The young woman, who declined to be interviewed, initially thought that most of her brother’s family had been killed, the Bradleys said.

But over the course of the day, and with the couple’s help, she learned that her brother and his wife had initially survived the blast. By Thursday night in the United States, however, the wife had died in the hospital and the family had not found their two younger children.

“We don’t know anything on their status: whether they are hurt, killed or someone took them away to help them,” General Bradley said.

General Bradley said he hoped that his charity could resume something close to normal operations once conditions on the ground calm down. And he said he would keep up his efforts to get people out, hopeless as it often feels.

He also said he understood the United States’ rationale for leaving Afghanistan, but took issue with the way the Biden administration has carried it out.

“I don’t know why it wasn’t started earlier,” General Bradley said of the evacuation. “That’s the baffling thing to me, and I’d love to have an answer someday on that.”


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