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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

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‘Democracy will be in shambles’: Democrats in last-ditch effort to protect voting rights | US voting rights | The Guardian

‘Democracy will be in shambles’: Democrats in last-ditch effort to protect voting rights

"Party members say their control of both the House and Senate is at risk if they do not pass new legislation to protect elections

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Democrats are pushing what may be their last chance to hold off voter suppression efforts by Republicans, and say that their control of both the House and Senate is at risk if they do not pass their new legislation to protect elections.

Their bill, which cleared the US House on a party-line vote last week, has now been taken up by a bitterly divided Senate. It would ensure that states with a recent history of voter suppression must obtain federal approval before making any changes to their election systems, while also undoing a recent supreme court decision that makes it harder to challenge laws under the Voting Rights Act.

But Democrats appear unlikely to get more than a handful of GOP votes in the Senate on the bill. They need the support of 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster, the procedural rule requiring 60 votes to advance legislation. Just one Senate Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has said she supportsreauthorizing the provision, an early signal of how difficult it will be to get Republicans to sign on at a time when state party members are pushing more voting restrictions.

Outside groups continue to escalate pressure on members of congress to pass the bill, which is named after John Lewis, the civil rights icon. They held marches in Washington on Saturday – the 58th anniversary of the historic march on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr gave his I Have A Dream Speech.

Theodore Dean, 84, attended the 1963 march and drove 16 hours from Alabama to attend the march for voting rights in Washington on Saturday.

“I’m here because I got grandchildren and children,” he said. He added that the fight over voting rights “gets worse every year. Sometimes it feels like it goes down instead of up. My children and grandchildren need to be able to vote too.”

Democrats have highlighted the importance of passing voting rights legislation since the beginning of the year, but the bill arrives in the Senate at a moment when the stakes are uniquely high. State lawmakers are currently drawing maps for electoral districts that will be in place for the next decade. Unless the bill passes, it will be the first time since 1965 certain states with a legacy of racial discrimination won’t have to get their district approved before they go into effect. That could encourage state lawmakers to draw districts that make it harder for Black and other minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice, critics say.

The blockade also underscores how Democrats have not yet found a way to deal with the filibuster. Even amid loud calls to do away with the process, a handful of moderate Democrats, led by Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have refused, holding up Democratic efforts to pass voting rights protections, among other measures.

The Rev Al Sharptonm Martin Luther King III and others await the beginning of the march on the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The Rev Al Sharptonm Martin Luther King III and others await the beginning of the march on the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington. Photograph: Allison Bailey/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

“The same people who are suppressing the vote are also using the filibuster to block living wage – it’s not about one issue,” said the Rev William Barber, a co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign and a civil rights leader. “Anyone who tries to make this about one issue like voting rights, you’re misleading the people. You have to draw this line and connect the dots.”

There are also fraught political stakes for Joe Biden. Amid growing concern the White House wasn’t taking the fight for voting rights seriously enough, the president gave a public speech on the topic in July. Still, White House advisers have said they believe they can “out-organize” voter suppression, an idea that has infuriated civil rights leaders.

“You said the night you won that Black America had your back and that you were going to have Black America’s back,” the Rev Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader, said at the rally in Washington Saturday. “Well, Mr President, they’re stabbing us in the back. In 49 states, they’ve got their knives out stabbing us in the back.

“You need to pick up the phone and call Manchin and others and tell them that if they can carve around the filibuster to confirm supreme court judges for President Trump, they can carve around the filibuster to bring voter rights to President Biden,” he added.

“We have a problem here. We have Republicans on one side saying the bill isn’t needed,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “And then we have far too many Democrats who lack the sense of urgency that it’s going to be absolutely critical to protect the rights of voters.”

Republicans successfully filibustered a different voting rights measure earlier this year – one that would prohibit partisan gerrymandering, as well as require same-day, automatic and online voter registration. But Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said he was confident this bill would actually pass.

“I don’t think we’re gonna have the same fate with this piece of legislation that we’ve seen, being stalled in the Senate. I do believe there will be the necessary political will to pass it,” said Johnson, who has met with the White House and members of Congress to push for the bill. Pressed on whether he believed 10 Republicans would sign on to the bill, Johnson suggested Democrats could do away with the filibuster to pass the bill.

“I’m not suggesting it’s gonna require 10 Republicans. I am suggesting the legislation will pass,” he said. “I don’t see a doomsday. I see a reality that voting rights protections must pass before the end of this year … Our democracy will be in shambles if it’s not done.”

A Republican filibuster of the John Lewis bill could offer Democrats wary of getting rid of the rule one of the clearest examples to date of how it has become a tool of obstruction. The last time the Senate voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it passed 98-0 before being signed by George W Bush, a Republican.

“This iteration of the Voting Rights Act, this should be something that should garner bipartisan support. And if it garners none, and if there’s not even a serious conversation about tweaks to get to a deal, then I think that tells us something,” said Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group that strongly supports the bill.

“It tells us that there was never really an attempt to play ball. Or, even if there was some attempt, there was just insufficient political will,” he added.

Texas Democrats also heightened the stakes when they fled the state capitol last month to thwart Republican efforts to pass new sweeping voting restrictions. The Texas lawmakers spent much of the last month in Washington lobbying to pass federal voting protections. The standoff ended last week when the Texas bill passed; if Congress fails to act on its own legislation now, it could make the effort from Texas lawmakers look futile.

In Washington on Saturday at the march, there was a sense of history and an awareness of how the fight for voting rights now mirrored the struggle of the civil rights movement.

“Our ancestors did these marches and did these walks and talk – so this is like something that I’m supposed to do,” said Najee Farwell, a student at Bowie State University.

“It’s kind of changed but you still can see the same stuff going on. If you look at pictures back from 1950 it’s still the same stuff going on right now,” said Jemira Queen, a fellow student."

‘Democracy will be in shambles’: Democrats in last-ditch effort to protect voting rights | US voting rights | The Guardian

Opinion | Do Republicans Actually Want the Pandemic to End? - The New York Times

Do Republicans Actually Want the Pandemic to End?

Pool photo by Kevin Dietsch

"President Barack Obama promised unity. In his 2008 campaign, he said he would heal the nation’s political divides and end more than a decade of partisan rancor.

To keep this promise, Obama needed allies, or at least partners, in the Republican Party. But they said no. If they could block Obama — if they could withhold support on anything significant he planned to do — then they could make him break his promise. Republicans would obstruct and Obama would get the blame. Which, you might remember, is what happened. By the 2010 midterm elections, Obama was a divisive president.

Joe Biden, in his 2020 campaign for president, promised to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. With additional aid to working families and free distribution of multiple effective vaccines, he would lead the United States out of its ongoing public health crisis.

I think you can see where this is going.

Rather than work with him to vaccinate the country, Biden’s Republican opposition has, with only a few exceptions, done everything in its power to politicize the vaccine and make refusal to cooperate a test of partisan loyalty. The party is, for all practical purposes, pro-Covid. If it’s sincere, it is monstrous. And if it’s not, it is an unbelievably cynical and nihilistic strategy. Unfortunately for both Biden and the country, it appears to be working.

Jamelle Bouie’s Newsletter  Discover overlooked writing from around the internet, and get exclusive thoughts, photos and reading recommendations from Jamelle. .

Naturally, some of the loudest vaccine-skeptical Republicans are in Congress. “Think about what those mechanisms could be used for,” Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said of the Biden administration’s plan for door-to-door vaccine ambassadors. “They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could go door-to-door to take your Bibles.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has similarly criticized the president’s effort to reach the unvaccinated. “People have a choice, they don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations,” she tweeted. “You can’t force people to be part of the human experiment.”

Cawthorn and Greene are obviously fringe figures. But these days, the fringe is not far from the center of the Republican Party (if it ever was to begin with). Their rhetoric is not too different, in other words, from that of their more mainstream colleagues in the Senate.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has attacked vaccine mandates — “There should be no mandates, zero, concerning Covid,” he said in a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity — while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has urged Americans to “resist” efforts to stop the spread of the virus. “It’s time for us to resist,” Paul said in a video posted to Twitter. “They can’t arrest all of us. They can’t keep all of your kids home from school. They can’t keep every government building closed, although I’ve got a long list of ones they might keep closed or ought to keep closed.”

Republican rhetoric in Washington, however, is a sideshow to the real fight over Covid, in states like Florida and Texas.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected vaccine passports and launched an aggressive campaign against mandatory mask-wearing in schools. “It is very important that we say, unequivocally, no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no to mandates,” he told a gathering of conservative activists in Utah last month. DeSantis has suspended city and county emergency orders, put limits on future mitigation efforts, and signed a law that “shields nursing homes, hospitals and businesses from legal liability if employees and patrons contract the virus on their premises.”

All of this, even as the state has been ravaged by the Delta variant of the virus. Florida has been reporting more than 20,000 new infections a day and has averaged 262 Covid deaths — the most of any state, at least in absolute numbers. More than 16,000 people are hospitalized and thousands have been taken to intensive care units. Who does DeSantis blame for these outcomes? Biden.

“You know, he said he was going to end Covid. He hasn’t done that,” the Florida governor told the Fox News host Jesse Watters last week. “At the end of the day, he is trying to find a way to distract from the failures of his presidency.”

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has banned mask mandates, signed legislation that would deny state contracts or licenses to businesses that require proof of vaccination, and — after recovering from a breakthrough Covid infection himself — banned local governments from requiring the vaccine for any public agency or private institution. In a statement, Abbott said that this was to avoid a “patchwork of vaccine mandates across Texas.” But in a message to the state legislature, the governor appeared to be asking lawmakers to consider an outright ban on vaccine mandates. On Aug. 25, the day Abbott sent his message, Texas reported more than 23,000 new cases of Covid, along with 14,000 hospitalizations and 245 deaths.

Abbott and DeSantis are not alone. Earlier this month, the Republican governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, created two new grant programs that would give funds to families and school districts that rejected mask mandates. And in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem once again cheered the Sturgis motorcycle rally, a year after it contributed to a Covid outbreak throughout the region and into the Midwest. This year, health officials have already linked the rally to cases in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The effect of all of this for the country is a pandemic that won’t die. The effect of it for the Republican Party is a substantial part of its base that won’t take the vaccine. According to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Republicans lag most of the rest of the country in vaccine uptake; 54 percent said they had received at least one dose at the time of the survey, compared with 67 percent of all adults. And the effect of this for Biden is a sharp drop to his approval rating; a Reuters poll conducted mid-month found the president down 21 points among all Americans for his handling of the pandemic.

What amounts to a Republican effort to prolong the pandemic shows no sign of abating. It may even get worse, as powerful conservative media personalitiesspread vaccine skepticism and embrace dubious miracle cures like ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms in livestock, not viruses in humans.

If Biden does not want the kind of backlash that his Democratic predecessor faced, he needs to act aggressively to push the United States off its vaccination plateau. Republicans might be setting him up to break his promise to stop Covid, but the president should understand that he’s not actually at their mercy."

Opinion | Do Republicans Actually Want the Pandemic to End? - The New York Times

In Afghanistan, an Unceremonious End, and a Shrouded Beginning - The New York Times

In Afghanistan, an Unceremonious End, and a Shrouded Beginning

"The last American flight from Afghanistan left behind a host of unfulfilled promises and anxious questions about the country’s fate.

Taliban fighters watching as a C-17 military transport plane left Kabul, Afghanistan, at sunset on Monday.
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Taliban fighters watching as a C-17 military transport plane left Kabul, Afghanistan, at sunset on Monday.Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The end of the United States’ longest war was unceremonious — trash blowing across the single airstrip of Kabul’s international airport, Afghans lingering outside the gates, still hoping in vain for evacuation, Taliban firing victoriously into the night sky.

In its final days, it was two U.S. Marines shaking hands with Taliban fighters in the dim glow of the domestic terminal. It was lines of starved and dehydrated evacuees boarding gray planes that took them to uncertain futures. It was the Taliban’s leadership dictating their terms, as a generation of Afghans pondered the end of 20 years of some kind of expanded hope.

It was highway overpasses and park benches stretched across the United States, named in honor of the war’s dead.

The end, at least for the Americans and their Western allies, came on a Monday after the thousands of U.S. troops defending Hamid Karzai International Airport flew out in waves, one lumbering transport plane after another until none were left, in the final hours of the lost war.

Unlike the Soviets defeated before them, the Americans’ legacy was not a landscape littered with the destroyed hulks of armored vehicles. Instead, they left all the arms and equipment needed to supply the Taliban, the victors, for years to come, the product of two decades and $83 billion training and equipping an Afghan military and police forces that collapsed in the face of poor leadership and dwindling U.S. support.

Old Soviet tanks litter the grounds of Bala Hissar, outside Kunduz.
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Afghanistan has once more completed a cycle that has repeatedly defined the past 40 years of violence and upheaval: For the fifth time since the Soviet invasion in 1979, one order has collapsed and another has risen. What has followed each of those times has been a descent into vengeance, score-settling and, eventually, another cycle of disorder and war.

It is up to the Taliban, now, to decide whether they will perpetuate the cycle of vengeance, as they did upon seizing power from a group of feuding warlords in 1996, or will truly embrace the new path that their leaders have promised in recent days: one of acceptance and reconciliation.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda executed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and President George W. Bush announced that the United States would invade Afghanistan as the first act in a global war against terrorism. Now, the United States is contending with how to define its relationship with the same Islamist rulers it toppled in 2001 — again a question of vengeance or acceptance — and how to try to head off the resurgence of any international terrorist threat rising from Afghanistan.

Now, there are smaller prospects of airstrikes in the Afghan countryside that leave the unnamed and faceless dead as data points in a colored bar graph of a barely read United Nations report. No roadside bombs buried in haste, in the dead of night, that might strike a government vehicle or a minibus packed with families.

Instead, there is a widespread anxiety about what the true shape of Taliban rule will be with the Americans truly gone. And there is fear that the chaotic rush of the government’s collapse during the Taliban advance could leave an unfixable economy, ruin and hunger.

The United States’ conflict in Afghanistan was a long war with a quick end, or so it seemed. But the withdrawal’s fate was set more than 18 months ago, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw from the country by May 1, 2021. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking Americans, end mass-casualty attacks on Afghans in cities, and prevent Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups from finding refuge in the country.

The Taliban’s leverage, earned after years of fighting the world’s most advanced military, multiplied as they captured more remote outposts and checkpoints, then rural villages and districts, then the roads in between them. By the beginning of this year, the Taliban had positioned themselves near several key cities, as the newly inaugurated Biden administration weighed whether to honor the agreement made under President Donald J. Trump to depart.

By the time President Biden and NATO announced in April the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces by Sept. 11, the Taliban were already taking district after district. The Afghan security forces were surrendering or being cut down in droves. Soon, provincial capitals too were under siege, despite American air power and an Afghan military that Mr. Biden and other senior officials said was nearly 300,000 strong. But in the final days, the Afghan security forces totaled around just one-sixth of that, according to U.S. officials.

Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Afghan troops fled more than fought, but those who were killed with their chests facing their enemy died for a cause that not even their leaders seemed to believe in.

Even before Mr. Biden’s announcement and Mr. Trump’s deal with the Taliban, the United States had been in stages of withdrawal since December 2009, when President Barack Obama announced both a surge of tens of thousands of troops and their departure by 2014.

Since then, Afghans and America’s allies have been in varying stages of alarm and second-guessing, clambering to secure their future and business interests. This uncertainty reinforced the endemic corruption that the West decried, but continued to feed it with billions of dollars in the hope it might somehow change.

Now, at the end, the Afghan politicians and entrepreneurs and elite who fed off the war’s coffers have largely fled. The final U.S. military planes departed, leaving behind at least 100,000 Afghans eligible for resettlement in the United States for their work with the Americans. 

The evacuation, which began in July as an orderly and modest relocation of a few thousand Afghans, devolved into an apocalyptic exodus as Kabul collapsed on Aug. 15. Hundreds, then thousands, amassed at the gates; people abandoned their cars; and U.S. forces watched on infrared cameras as people overran their defenses, not with tanks or explosives but with sheer mass.

The Americans and the Taliban then worked together to clear the airport and establish a perimeter after frantic Afghans fell from the underbelly of transport planes and the thud-thud-thud of helicopters evacuated the U.S. Embassy, one of the world’s largest diplomatic missions. The evacuation became plagued by scenes that evoked those of another generational American war, when Saigon fell and helicopters were pushed from ships to sea.

Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“We have a mutually beneficial relationship with the Taliban,” one soldier said unironically this month, standing near the sea of people holding signs and documents and passports in the dead of night, illuminated by the flashlights attached to rifles held by American soldiers who yelled at them to stop pushing and get back. One person was caught in the string of barbed wire and ripped free by panicked family members as more steel barrier coils were laid in place.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.

A year ago, or 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, the Taliban were shadows in an adjacent tree line, the unseen specters who turned the ground in front of U.S., NATO and Afghan troops into a mine-laden hell. Each step posed the question of what to do if a friend in front was suddenly blown in half — the tourniquet goes here, the blood type is O positive.

Yet in the final hours of America’s war, the Taliban fully materialized, just down the road or on the other side of the gate in the country’s capital. They were suddenly everywhere, their white-and-black flags orbiting the American positions, controlling the crowd, letting the Americans end the war — but not on American terms.

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

For the American forces on the ground the final weeks of the war, the task at hand wasn’t a presence patrol, or counterinsurgency operations or clear-hold-build or nation-building. There were no raids on Taliban weapons caches or bomb makers because the bomb makers and their commanders now controlled the city.

The young soldiers and Marines instead found ways to help those who were lucky enough to make it near the airport gates at all. They pulled people through the threshold to what Afghans believed would be a better life. Sometimes those Afghans didn’t have the right documents, so they were turned away.

Beyond the trauma of having to give that rejection, and face that desperation, the Americans would once more face the loss of comrades in Afghanistan in those final hours — 13 U.S. service members, killed by an Islamic State terrorist attack on Thursday as they tried to sort a crowd of Afghans holding their documents out for consideration. Almost 200 Afghans were killed in the same attack, in a devastating coda of carnage.

In Qatar, Kuwait, Germany and the United States, tens of thousands of Afghans sit in processing centers, out of the shadow of the Taliban’s new-old government, but uncertain of when or how they might make it to America.

In the United States, historians and analysts will look back on the failed solutions and the misguided strategies and general officers who assured victory even though in off-the-record briefings and closed-door sessions they acknowledged that the United States was losing. Perhaps the American people will demand accountability for the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars spent, only for the Taliban to end up back in control, more powerful than they were 20 years ago.

Or perhaps they won’t care, and will move on in an America that will continue to be profoundly shaped — politically, economically and personally — by the war, noticed or not.

As for those left behind in Afghanistan, a country of 38 million minus the thousands who have fled or died in recent weeks, all they can do is look forward, asking themselves and anyone who will listen: What comes next?

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times"
In Afghanistan, an Unceremonious End, and a Shrouded Beginning - The New York Times

Monday, August 30, 2021

Afghanistan News: Live Updates - The New York Times

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.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken addresses the situation in Afghanistan following the end of the 20-year U.S. occupation of the country.Pool photo by Olivier Douliery

Sign up for a daily email with the latest news on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

A C-17 transport plane taking off from Kabul at sunset on Monday, as Taliban forces guarded the entrance to the airport.
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.

 Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Lauren Katzenberg

Samia Ahmadi, right, whose father and fiancé were both killed on Sunday in a U.S. drone strike on a house in Kabul, Afghanistan. 
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.”


U.S. Investigating Civilian Casualties in Kabul Strike

Pentagon officials acknowledged the possibility of civilian casualties in Kabul, Afghanistan, following a U.S. military drone strike on a vehicle they said was carrying explosives related to an ISIS-K threat on the airport.

On Sunday, U.S. military forces conducted an unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike on a vehicle known to be an imminent ISIS-K threat. This self-defense strike successfully hit the target near Kabul airport. Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material. We are aware of reports of civilian casualties and we take these reports very seriously and we are continuing to assess the situation. Make no mistake, no military on the face of the Earth works harder to avoid civilian casualties than the United States military. And nobody wants to see innocent life taken. 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. We’re investigating this. I’m not going to get ahead of it. But if we have, you know, verifiable information that we did, in fact, take innocent life here, then we will be transparent about that, too. Nobody wants to see that happen. But you know what else we didn’t want to see happen? We didn’t want to see happen what we believe to be a very real, a very specific and a very imminent threat to the Hamid Karzai International Airport and to our troops operating at that airport, as well as civilians around it and in it.

Pentagon officials acknowledged the possibility of civilian casualties in Kabul, Afghanistan, following a U.S. military drone strike on a vehicle they said was carrying explosives related to an ISIS-K threat on the airport.U.S. Network Pool

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 fiancé, 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.

Footage showed the site of a U.S. military drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. The strike targeted a vehicle carrying explosives, a Defense Department official said.EPA, via Shutterstock

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.

Taliban fighters investigating a damaged car after multiple rockets were fired in Kabul on Monday.
Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.

 Megan SpeciaJim Huylebroek, Matthieu Aikins and Dan Bilefsky

The control room at Tolo television, a broadcaster in Kabul.
Ahmad Masood/Reuters

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.

Behishta Arghand in Doha last week.
Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

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.

A female news anchor interviewed a Taliban official on an Afghan television station. The group’s takeover has raised fears of a return to repressive policies and human rights violations for women and girls.Tolo News

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.”

People being sent away from the Abbey Gate area of the Kabul airport last week.
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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.’”

The campus of the American University in Kabul.

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, warned his U.S. counterpart that cooperation on Afghanistan would depend on the U.S.’s attitude toward Beijing. 
Pool photo by Francis Malasig

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.”

Safa, center, with her friends Tamana, left and Oranous in Doha, Qatar, after being evacuated from Kabul on the weekend.

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.”

Afghanistan evacuees departing from a processing center at the Dulles Expo Center in Virginia on Thursday.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

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.

President Biden joined the families of 13 U.S. service members killed in a bombing at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan last week, as their remains were brought to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The fallen included 11 Marines, a Navy medic and an Army member.Doug Mills/The New York Times

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.

A memorial for Sgt. Johanny Rosario, one of the U.S. Marines killed this week in the bombing at the Kabul airport, at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Sunday.
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

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.”

Air Force drones at a base in the Gulf region in 2016.
John Moore/Getty Images

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 man injured in the bombing at the Kabul airport being treated at the Emergency NGO hospital last week. The W.H.O. reported the delivery of more than 12 tons of medical supplies to Afghanistan on Monday. 
Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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."

Afghanistan News: Live Updates - The New York Times