Afghanistan Updates: Rockets Launched at Kabul Airport After U.S. Strikes

Credit…Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The U.S. military shot down rockets aimed at the Kabul airport on Monday morning as violence near the field threatened efforts by the United States to meet Tuesday’s deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan and end America’s longest war.

A U.S. official said the rockets were brought down by a counter-rocket system after five were fired at the airport, and that there were no initial reports of casualties. The airport remained open, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

The move by the U.S. military underlined the precariousness of the security situation in the Afghan capital and the dangers of an imminent security vacuum, with just two days remaining before President Biden’s Tuesday deadline to complete the withdrawal from America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan.

It followed another U.S. strike on Sunday, when a U.S. military drone strike blew up a vehicle laden with explosives in Kabul on Sunday, officials said.

Afghans said the drone strike killed as many as nine civilians, including children, and the U.S. military said it was investigating.

The Sunday strike thwarted an imminent threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport from the Islamic State Khorasan, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said.

Defense officials in a statement Sunday evening acknowledged the possibilities that civilians may have been killed after the strike.

Bill Urban, the CentCom spokesman, said he was aware that there had been powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of a vehicle, that may have caused additional casualties. “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” he said. “We are still assessing the results of this strike.”

He added: “We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”

Credit…Aamaj News Agency, via Reuters

The chief Taliban spokesman and people in Kabul who posted on social media said that both a house and a vehicle had been hit in a neighborhood just west of the airport and that several civilians had been killed, as well.

Samim Shahyad, a 25-year-old journalism student, said the strike killed his father, his two brothers, four of his young cousins, his niece and his sister’s fiancé. Three of the dead were girls 2 years old or younger, he said, and his aunt and uncle lost all three of their children.

“The American aircraft targeted us,” he said. “I do not know what to say, they just cut my arms and broke my back, I cannot say anything more.”

A doctor at a nearby hospital said four bodies were taken there, two of them those of children.

A senior U.S. military official responded that the military was confident that no civilians had been in the targeted vehicle but acknowledged that the detonation of the explosives in it could have caused “collateral damage.”

Video of the scene showed a tangle of metal barely recognizable as the remains of a vehicle, and just a few feet away, the charred, pockmarked wreck of another vehicle, an S.U.V. Mr. Shahyad said his father had been pulling into their garage when the explosion hit.

Earlier Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had said that there was a “specific, credible threat” to the airport area, where a suicide bombing on Thursday killed as many as 170 civilians and 13 members of the American military. The Islamic State Khorasan claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Biden had warned on Saturday that another attack was “highly likely” in the coming hours.

The exterior of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, seen late on Aug. 15, the day the Taliban took control of the city.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The United States is unlikely to keep diplomats in Afghanistan after the U.S. military departs on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Sunday, ending a 20-year mission of one of the largest American embassies in the world.

Officials said it was expected that the U.S. mission to Afghanistan would open a diplomatic mission in a country elsewhere in the region, in part to continue helping the surge of expected refugees obtain necessary departure documents. That effort could be based in Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates, an official said, given the large Afghan diaspora in both countries. American diplomats have also for years held peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, where there is a large U.S. military base that is being used now as a way station for tens of thousands of Afghans who have been evacuated.

After saying last week that the Biden administration was reviewing options for the future of the embassy in Kabul, Mr. Blinken told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that “in terms of having an on-the-ground diplomatic presence on Sept. 1, that’s not likely to happen.”

“But what is going to happen is that our commitment to continue to help people leave Afghanistan who want to leave and who are not out by Sept. 1, that endures,” Mr. Blinken said. “There’s no deadline on that effort. And we have ways, we have mechanisms to help facilitate the ongoing departure of people from Afghanistan if they choose to leave.”

The Taliban had wanted the United States and other foreign diplomats to remain in Kabul as acknowledgment of the Taliban’s legitimacy as Afghanistan’s rulers.

Ending the American diplomatic presence in the country will be a blow to the U.S. diplomatic corps. Hundreds of American diplomats served in Afghanistan after the embassy was reclaimed by Marines in December 2001 during the U.S.-led invasion. It had been closed since 1989, when the Soviet military withdrew from Afghanistan after a 10-year war.

The diplomatic mission’s staffing levels ballooned during a so-called civilian surge that coincided with an increase in military troops that began in 2010. The embassy compound in Kabul later expanded, with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional office space, employee apartments, fortified gates and blast walls over 15 acres, about the size of Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

Just weeks before the embassy closed on Aug. 15, as the Taliban took over the capital, its staff stood at about 4,000 employees, around 1,400 of whom were American diplomats, contractors and officials from other U.S. agencies.

Nonessential employees had been flown out months before, and by the time the American flag was lowered two weeks ago, only a small core of diplomats remained to be evacuated to a secure compound at the international airport where they could be protected by the military. Now, with the military departing — as part of an agreement with the Taliban — the State Department saw little choice but to also withdraw its diplomats.

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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.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — President Biden landed in Delaware on Sunday morning to join the families of the 13 members of the U.S. military who were killed in a bombing last week in Afghanistan.

The service members include 11 Marines, a Navy medic and a member of the Army. They were killed at the airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, by a bomber from the Islamic State Khorasan group as they attempted to help people escape the country before American troops complete their withdrawal.

The president and first lady, Jill Biden, met with the families on Sunday morning. They then participated in 13 transfers — 11 for families who chose to allow media to observe the remains of their loved ones returning home, and two for families who chose to keep their transfers private.

The fallen service members returning Sunday to Dover were: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City; Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.; Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.; Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha; Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.; Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn.

Mr. Biden stood at attention with his right hand over his heart as service members in varying shades of green fatigues — first for the Army, then the Marines, then the Navy — carried flag-draped transfer cases containing remains of the fallen from the belly of a gray C-17 transport plane to a fleet of four gray vans with their back doors open.

The carry teams, as they are called, worked in three-minute cycles, with the public set of 11 transfers lasting just under 40 minutes total, including a prayer at the beginning.

In between transfers, the president spread his legs wider, clasped his hands at his belt or behind his back, and frequently closed his eyes and bowed his head.

A large group of federal dignitaries were on hand for the transfers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III; Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken; Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and several members of Congress. One observer, who the White House later identified as Martha Carper, the wife of Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, appeared to faint midway through one of the transfers.

The White House did not announce the trip in advance. It is the first time Mr. Biden has witnessed the return of service members killed in the line of duty since assuming the presidency. The men and women killed in the Kabul attack were the first American service members killed by hostile forces since March 2020. Mr. Biden witnessed a transfer as vice president in 2016.

“The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement released on Saturday. “Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.”

The campus of the American University in Kabul.
Credit…Hosay

Hundreds of students, their relatives and staff of 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 U.S. 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 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 the group captured was the sprawling, modern American University campus. Men in traditional Afghan outfits and swinging AK-47 rifles raised the flag of the Taliban and brought down the university flag, 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 they were where America 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 that the Taliban were on the outskirts of Kabul. The American University president, Ian 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 that 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 with 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.

For over two weeks, students and alumni said they struggled emotionally as their status changed from 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 was 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 of the evacuation show hundreds of students, carrying backpacks 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.”

People being sent away from the Abbey Gate area of the Kabul airport last week.
Credit…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 had 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 were among the Afghans General Bradley tried to help. They had traveled to the airport in Kabul in a desperate attempt to get on a flight with documentation from General Bradley, but with no official clearance to board a plane. As they tried to navigate a path out of the country, the Islamic State Korasan, 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 two 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 medical 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 deadline fast approaches. Their plight is just one example of the tens of thousands of Afghans with connections to the United States desperate to escape.

General Bradley said he and family members have appealed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and retired military leaders to reach out to President Biden or other officials who can 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 out for the Stanekzais 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 that “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 that 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.’”

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.
Credit…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 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 part of the force compared to other military branches, Ms. Germano said, “But every year, more women are out front, bearing the burden more equally with men.”

Afghanistan evacuees departing from a processing center at the Dulles Expo Center in Virginia on Thursday.
Credit…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 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.

The 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” of 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.”

That stood in stark contrast to the tens of thousands of Afghans who relief agencies said feared being left behind and living under Taliban rule. That includes those who worked for the American military or the U.S. Embassy since 2001 and were eligible to immigrate to the United States.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told ABC News on Sunday that there were 300 Americans who 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.

The site in Kabul where gunmen killed two women judges in January. An organization is considering evacuating women by land via a long, dangerous journey to border areas.
Credit…Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Two nonprofit organizations that have been trying, with disappointing results, to help scores of prominent Afghan women and their families escape their country have been finding increasingly formidable obstacles in their paths.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, the founder and chief executive of the Washington, D.C.,-based International Civil Society Action Network, said the group has been trying to find room on charter flights for the Afghans, who include journalists, human rights activists and others. But the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport on Thursday has made those efforts much more difficult.

“In the last day or two, I am getting a lot of women telling me goodbye. Women starting to give up,” said Deeyah Khan, an International Civil Society Action Network board member and a documentary filmmaker. “The least we can do is make sure they don’t stand completely alone.”

Too Young to Wed, a nonprofit based in Peekskill, N.Y., that was founded by the photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, has also been trying to organize charter flights to evacuate prominent Afghan women since the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

As of Saturday, Ms. Sinclair said the group had only been able to help about 60 women and their families leave the country on flights and is now considering trying to organize evacuations by land that would involve a long, dangerous journey to border areas.

“It is heartbreaking and terrifying that this generation of women leaders have to fear their lives, for simply having dreams and wanting to have a purpose in life as a woman,” Ms. Sinclair said.

The two organizations have received calls and messages from Afghan women who are unsure what to do and how to keep their family members safe.

The Taliban’s chief spokesman has said that “there will be no violence against women” under the new regime. Zabihullah Mujahid promised this week that “no prejudice against women will be allowed” and said that they could participate in society — “within the bounds of Islamic law.”

But in social media posts and interviews, many Afghan women say the Taliban have already imposed some restrictions. Some women who were employees of the former government have stopped going to work, fearing retribution.

“I am waiting for some kind of miracle to take me out of this country,” said Hosay, 24, a college student in Kabul who wanted to create an engineering company led by women engineers. “My future under the Taliban is a dead end.”

The entrance gates to the aiport in Kabul seen earlier this month.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Two congressmen who made an unauthorized trip to the airport in Kabul last week defended themselves on Sunday amid accusations that their visit was an unwelcome distraction from the evacuation effort.

“Those accusations are just not true,” one of the congressmen, Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“At the end of the day, I don’t care what pundits in Washington are saying,” he added. “They’ve been wrong about this war for 20 years.”

Mr. Moulton and the other congressman, Representative Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan, visited the airport days before a suicide bombing there killed as many as 170 civilians and 13 members of the American military.

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Mr. Meijer said that he and Mr. Moulton were “uniquely positioned” among members of Congress to make the trip, given their backgrounds.

“Not only have we both served with the military in Iraq, we’d also spent time in Afghanistan as civilians,” Mr. Meijer said. He added, “We were uniquely situated to be able to get in, get out, be as quiet as possible, but also take away as much information as possible.”

More than 70 House members are veterans, according to the Republican minority on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The two lawmakers also continued to criticize the Biden administration’s handling of the evacuation, while acknowledging that their trip to Kabul had changed their minds about President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for a full withdrawal, which they had previously urged the administration to extend.

“We realized that we did not have that leverage,” Mr. Meijer said. “We were wholly dependent on the cooperation of the Taliban.”

He added, “This is the least worst of the options that are before us.”

Flags lowered to half-staff in Washington on Saturday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Department of Defense on Saturday identified the 13 members of the U.S. military who were killed in the attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday as they worked to evacuate people to safety. They hailed from across the country — from California to Wyoming to Tennessee — and had an average age of just over 22. Eleven were Marines, one was a Navy medic and another was a member of the Army.

Here is what we know about them.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Staff Sergeant Hoover was a born leader, his father Darin Hoover said, who loved the United States and was on his third tour in Afghanistan. “He led his men into that, and they followed him, but I know — I know in my heart of hearts, he was out front,” Mr. Hoover said. “And they would’ve followed him through the gates of hell if that’s what it took, and, ultimately, that’s pretty much what he did.”

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Sergeant Rosario should be “recognized as the hero that she was,” her family told the mayor of Lawrence. Her former junior R.O.T.C. instructor recalled her as an “absolute warrior” in high school, and Marine First Lt. John Coppola said in a statement that she had been “crucial to evacuating thousands of women and children.” The Dominican Republic’s embassy in the U.S. said that she was Dominican-American.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif.

Credit…via Gabriel Fuoco

In Sergeant Gee’s most recent post on Instagram, less than a week ago, she stands next to a long line of people waiting to file into a military plane at the Kabul airport. “Escorting evacuees onto the bird,” she wrote. In another post, in which she is holding a child in Kabul, she wrote, “I love my job.” A fellow sergeant wrote on Facebook that Sergeant Gee’s car was still in the lot at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina: “I drove it around the parking lot every once in a while to make sure it would be good for when she came home.”

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.

Credit…Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, via Reuters

Corporal Lopez’s mother told a reporter in Southern California that her son had recently carried an Afghan toddler several miles to safety, and asked people to light a candle in his honor. Corporal Lopez’s parents both work for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in California, his father as a captain and his mother as a deputy. “Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn’t a job; it was a calling,” the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association wrote in a statement.

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Corporal Page grew up in Red Oak, Iowa, and in the area around Omaha, and joined the Marines after high school, his family said in a statement. He had four siblings and was a member of the Boy Scouts, played club hockey, hunted with his father and had a “soft spot in his heart for dogs,” they said. “To his younger siblings, he was their favorite jungle gym and to his friends, he was a genuinely happy guy that you could always count on,” the family said, adding that he was being mourned by his parents, stepparents, siblings, grandparents and his girlfriend.

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Corporal Sanchez lived in a small city about an hour and a half north of Indianapolis and had graduated from Logansport High School. The mayor of Logansport said that Corporal Sanchez “still had his entire life ahead of him” and that the young man had sacrificed himself by “putting himself into harm’s way” as part of the mission in Kabul. Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana vowed “to honor him in every way” possible. “Few among us answer a call of duty so dangerous as Corporal Sanchez volunteered to do,” he said.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Lance Corporal Espinoza’s mother told a local television station that she had received a call at 2:30 a.m. informing her of her young son’s death. “I am proud of him because of what he did but as a mother, you know, it’s hard,” his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, told the station, KGNS-TV, as she teared up. The station reported that Lance Corporal Espinoza’s sister had just turned 13. The corporal was born in Laredo, Texas, his family said, and he had been stationed in Jordan for two years before being transferred to Kabul about a week ago. “He always knew” how much his parents loved him, Ms. Holguin said.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Lance Corporal Schmitz, who lived in a suburb of St. Louis, had been stationed in Jordan on his first deployment before being transferred to Afghanistan for the evacuation mission about two weeks ago, his father, Mark Schmitz, told KMOX radio in St. Louis. “It’s something he always wanted to do and I’ve never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be,” Mr. Schmitz said, adding that the family was both devastated and furious. “Somebody just came along and took the easy way out and ended everything for him and for us — and for those others that were killed,” he said.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.

Credit…via the McCollum Family

Lance Corporal McCollum had dreamed of becoming a Marine ever since he was 3 years old, his father, Jim, said in an interview. He, too, was recently transferred from Jordan to Afghanistan, and Mr. McCollum began checking his phone for a little green dot on a messaging app that showed that his son was online — and OK. When news came that 13 Americans had died in the attack, he again checked for the dot and sent him a message with no response. “In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” Mr. McCollum said, adding that his son was “a beautiful soul.”

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Lance Corporal Merola was “one of the best kids ever,” said Cheryl Merola, his mother. He was “kind, loving” and “would give anything for anybody,” she told KCBS-TV. His grandmother told the station that Lance Corporal Merola would frequently say he wanted to come home to his family. He had been transferred to Afghanistan about a week and a half ago, and left a voice mail message with his mother saying he would not be able to talk to her for a while and that he loved her. Los Osos High School in Southern California, from which he recently graduated, held a moment of silence for him at a football game on Friday.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Lance Corporal Nikoui was a young martial arts champion whose father told Reuters that he had watched television nonstop for updates on the attack until he learned the devastating news from three Marines at his door. “He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war,” Steve Nikoui said. He told The Daily Beast that his son loved his Marine family and wanted to “make a career out of this,” and added that he was frustrated that President Biden had sent his and others’ children into harm’s way. “They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security,” he said.

Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.

Credit…U.S. Marines, via Reuters

Mr. Soviak grew up playing football in a small northern Ohio community where his death has left a “Maxton-sized hole” in his loved ones’ lives, his sister Marilyn wrote in an Instagram post. He was a Navy medic who had graduated from high school in 2017. “Everybody looked to Max in tough situations,” said Jim Hall, his high school football coach, who described Mr. Soviak as a deeply loyal friend. “He was energetic. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was a passionate kid. He didn’t hold anything back.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tenn.

Credit…U.S. Army, via Associated Press

Staff Sergeant Knauss was “a motivated young man who loved his country,” his grandfather Wayne Knauss told WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tenn. “He was a believer so we will see him again in heaven.” He had been in the military for five years, his grandfather said, and his stepmother told the station that he had planned to move to Washington when he returned to the United States. One of his former teachers said he had been “quiet but confident” in school and that he had written an essay that said his role models were people who stand up against power to help people. “He wrote that nine years ago as a 14-year-old boy, not knowing the man he was going to become,” Angela Hoffman, the teacher, told the station.

Jack Healy and Dave Philipps contributed reporting.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, at the Capitol this month.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

With a final race to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan underway, Republican senators forcefully rebuked President Biden and his predecessor on Sunday for a decision that they warned could dangerously undermine two decades of American counterterroism investment.

The senators, among the loudest defenders of the war, praised American troops who lost their lives last week while helping evacuate Americans and their Afghan allies from the country by an Aug. 31 deadline. But they said the situation could have been avoided had President Donald J. Trump not struck a rapid withdrawal agreement with the Taliban or had Mr. Biden more rigorously planned for the war’s drawdown.

“This is one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history, much worse than Saigon,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate. “Just because we decided to quit fighting doesn’t mean the terrorists go away, so they are still out there, they are invigorated, they are emboldened.”

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. McConnell argued that the United States’ approach to Afghanistan — including stationing thousands of troops in the country to prop up the Afghan military — had been working, preventing deadly attacks against the homeland at a relatively modest cost in recent years.

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, called the deadly scramble playing out around the Kabul airport a “humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.” He dinged Mr. Trump for agreeing to release thousands of Taliban prisoners and Mr. Biden for abandoning Bagram Air Base.

“Recognize that we are in the position we are in right now because of terrible decisions made by two administrations,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The war is not over, we are just in a weaker position,” Mr. Romney continued. “The idea that somehow we could pull out of a dangerous place where radical violent jihadists are organizing, that we could pull out of that and that is going to stop them — that’s fantasy.”

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said of the Biden administration, “Their plan has basically been happy talk.”

“Joe Biden put our forces at risk by having no plan for how to evacuate,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We are absolutely at risk.”

Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan,  arriving in England on Sunday. He had stayed in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to help with the evacuation process.
Credit…Pool photo by Jonathan Brady

Britain announced on Sunday that the last of its soldiers and staff, including the country’s ambassador to Afghanistan, had boarded evacuation flights out of Kabul, essentially ending its two-decade military involvement in the war.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, praising their efforts in a national address posted to Twitter, said that the troops and officials had worked around the clock “to a remorseless deadline in harrowing conditions” to airlift more than 15,000 people, including Britons and Afghans, to safety in less than two weeks.

The ambassador, Laurie Bristow, who had stayed in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to help with the evacuation process, confirmed in a video on Sunday morning that he had landed at a military air base in Oxfordshire, northwest of London.

“We’ve had to leave Afghanistan for now, and the embassy will operate from Qatar for the time being,” he said, adding that London would put pressure on the Taliban to allow the transport to Britain of other Afghans and Britons left behind.

“We’ll do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years,” Mr. Bristow added.

It was not immediately clear how many British citizens and Afghans with permission to travel to Britain were still in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, 150,000 British service members did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, 457 troops died, and thousands more were wounded, Mr. Johnson said. Two Britons and the child of a Briton were among those killed in a suicide bombing outside the gates of the international airport in Kabul on Thursday.

Critics have denounced the sudden withdrawal from the country, but Mr. Johnson said that Britain had followed the lead of the United States and that the efforts over the past two decades had saved lives.

“In the last 20 years, not a single terrorist attack has been launched from Afghan soil against the U.K. or any other Western country,” he said in a letter addressed to members of the armed forces, adding that troops had “kept Al Qaeda from our door for two decades.”

Britain would remain a presence in the region, Mr. Johnson said, adding that humanitarian assistance would double to 286 million pounds, or about $393 million. “We will use every lever we have — political, economic, diplomatic — to help the people of Afghanistan and to protect our country from harm,” he said.

Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting.





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